Music: Frank Ocean, BLONDE

Frank-Ocean-blonde-album-cover-628x628#1 album on the Billboard 200 chart, week of 9/10/16

What it is: The long-awaited, self-released, Apple Music-exclusive second album (or third, if you count his recent visual album Endless) from hip-hop singer Frank Ocean. When I say “hip-hop singer” I mean that he’s a singer who often works in hip-hop-style productions, not that he’s a rapper. He does also sometimes rap, though. I know the album cover says “blond” but trust me, the name is spelled with an “E.” It’s a metaphor for gender identity or something.

I read Pitchfork and I like Pitchfork and I think anyone who uses them as a punchline to shit on hipsters or millennials or whatever is being lazy, but I can still admit that they get a little silly sometimes. Like, for example, when they went crazy for Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion and decided it was a breakout hit soundtracking backyard cookouts across America throughout 2009. That particular mainstream-penetrating smash peaked at #13 on the Billboard 200 chart, two spots below NOW 29, and I would’ve expected Frank Ocean’s Blonde to be the same deal: Beloved by critics but lucky to find itself in double-digits beneath some Journey greatest hits collection. This time I was wrong! I guess we all earned some karmic balance after Suicide Squad: The Album held the #1 spot for two weeks in a row.

But while Blonde‘s commercial performance defied my expectations, its content was still as off-beat as I was expecting. (My expectations were based entirely on media coverage, as I know Ocean’s work pretty much exclusively via his guest appearances on Kanye tracks and haven’t listened to any of his other albums.) Like Drake, Ocean favors melancholy, atmospheric production and tends to collapse the distinction between rapping and singing, but this record never strives for pop radio play the way Views did. Vocals get distorted and lyrics go off on arrhythmic tangents and tracks go by with no percussion, or barely any. None of the songs sound like singles. I don’t know that this is an album I’ll be listening to years from now (and I don’t mean it isn’t, just that I’d need more than the two spins I’ve given it to even get a sense of that), but it does my heart good to know that a creative work this weird can be this successful.

Fuck the guy in “Facebook Story,” though. Just accept her friend request, you douche.

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