Album Review: Frank Ocean - 'Endless'
‘’Endless’’ is the third project from California based singer, rapper, and songwriter, Frank Ocean. The album comes after Frank Ocean’s last project ‘’Channel Orange’’, and is his last release on the label Def Jam Recordings, before starting his own label titled: Blonded.
About the Album:
The album was first seen on August 1, 2016, with a 45-minute video showing Frank Ocean commencing a construction project in a secret warehouse, with barebones of the project’s instrumentals played in the background. Then on August 19, 2016, a new video started, where Frank Ocean completes the construction of a staircase with the full album playing in the background. Shortly after the video, the album was then released as a visual album as an exclusive to the streaming site Apple Music, ending many of Frank’s fans' wait for a new project.
Instrumentation and Album:
‘’Endless’’ has a total runtime of close to 35 minutes, with a total of 21 tracks, all in the genres of ambiance, R&B, and indie. The album also features a variety of instrumentation, from hard and pulsating drums on tracks like ‘’U-N-I-T-Y’’, ‘’Slide on Me’’, ‘’Rushes to’’ and ‘’Mitsubishi Sony’’, to luscious ambient chords like ‘’At Your Best (You Are Love)’’ and ‘’Sideways’’. Frank also makes use of guitars in this project, from the distorted rock guitar of ‘’Rushes’’ to the simple, but euphoric chords from an acoustic guitar on the track ‘’Higgs’’.
On the note of instrumentation, it is also important to note that the album contains a multitude of samples from other songs. While it is not a strict instrument, the sampling helps to add an extra layer to some of the interludes in the album, which helps make multiple tracks in the album gel into each other? Examples of this can be seen in the track ‘’Honeybaby’’, which samples the 1971 track ‘’Vapor Barato’’ by Gal Costa, and also in the track ‘’Hublots’’, where the synth chords are stemmed from Daft Punk’s 2013 track, ‘’Contact’’.
Background and Analysis:
‘’Endless’’ is an album that never got as much attention as Frank Ocean's other projects, such as ‘’Channel Orange’’ or ‘’Blonde’’ (an album that was released just a day after ‘’Endless’’). Despite this, this album is well known for being an album that Frank Ocean released as a 'finesse' to his old record label, Def Jam Recordings. In an interview with Gayletter Magazine, Frank even stated that he was not content with Def Jam, and so he released ‘’Endless’’ as a way to fulfill his requirements of 2 albums before being able to release the album he thought was the superior one, on his own imprint.
While ‘’Blonde’’ went on to become a staple of music in the 2010s, ‘’Endless’’ remained a more obscure project. A project that was hidden behind the exclusivity of Apple Music, and only got a physical release in 2018 when Frank Ocean sold remastered physical copies of the album on his website. However, ‘’Endless’’ does not feel like a quick throw-out record in order to fulfill the obligations of a contract. In fact, ‘’Endless’’, in more ways than one, feels like Frank Ocean’s most ambitious record to date.
This feeling of greatness comes down to the album’s structure. Many of the tracks on the album, although maybe too small to be heard on their own, accumulate to create a listening experience that feels like one whole journey. Tracks like ‘’Slide On Me’’, ‘’Sideways’’ and ‘’Florida’’ is just a small example of how many tracks on the album seemingly feel like one, thus making the album feel more of a unique listening experience.
‘’Endless’’ also relies on a lot of aesthetics, such as the bold vocal processing and unorthodox sound design on tracks like ‘’In Here Somewhere’’, ‘’Rushes’’ and ‘’Mitsubishi Sony’’. These small details scattered into pieces and stripped-down tracks make the album a one of a kind type project, that is rare to find in most genre-defining artists and projects. Even the visuals that came with the album serve a purpose, as the construction of a staircase, as well Frank Ocean climbing the staircase comes off as a metaphor of Frank Ocean pushing his music to a new, higher level. A nod to how ambitious Frank Ocean was, and that his departure of Def Jam led him to a new, higher level of his own musical identity.
Overall, ‘’Endless’’ is an album that is one of a kind. In a world where many people can find an interest in music that sounds unique and unorthodox, this project serves as a unique expression in Frank Ocean’s discography. While some tracks might feel empty or lacking much substance, when the album is heard in one listening, it combines to a soulful and enlightening experience which is to leave goosebumps on anyone who becomes intrigued in a music experience like no other.
While tracks like ‘’U-N-I-T-Y’’, ‘’Slide on Me’’, ‘’Higgs’’ and ‘’Mitsubishi Sony’’ are my personal favorites of the album, I am adamant that this project should be listened to in its entirety, in order, from start to finish, with the visuals (even if it is more than half an hour of someone building a staircase). To conclude, if I ever meet someone who would want to hear a project or some music that may sound ambitious and almost experimental, ‘’Endless’’, the visual album by Frank Ocean, would be one that I would suggest.