By Jay Ray | @jayrayisthename
Sometimes my cynicism shows. I admit it. I don’t like to acknowledge it’s existence, but yes, especially when it comes to pop culture, I am naturally inclined to eschew popular thought and “form my own opinion.” Never admitting that my opinion is filled with bias.
Which brings me to my initial reaction to Blonde, the new album by Frank Ocean.
It’s hard to believe that it was four years ago, in 2012, when Ocean’s critically lauded Channel Orange arrived. I legit didn’t like that record, but I fully admitted that Ocean could evolve into an important singer/songwriter with time. Buzz for his undone, but aptly titled Boys Don’t Cry seemed to start as early as 1977, and I proceeded to tune him out. You see, as a hater, I was hating. That’s what haters do, we hate. Okay … it was more than that. I grew up in the era of albums that you anticipated. The most anticipated, the most time to make, the most complicated roll outs NEVER EVER lived up to those expectations. So I wasn’t just hating, I was a skeptic.
A cynical, skeptical hater is hard to win over.
Blonde arrived after the most complicated series of events ever. There was a website, with Frank Ocean on video building a stairway to heaven or something while playing ambient Frank Ocean. Then there was nothing. Then a week later there was something, but it was some video called Endless, which was apparently a video release of the ambient Frank Ocean music that Frank Ocean was playing while building the stairway thingy. Then we learned that that wasn’t the record, actually. The record was coming later. Then Blonde showed up, and people were understandably like “where’s Boy’s Don’t Cry, Frank?! You a stunt queen who’s pretending to have a record, and you ain’t go no record. This is why I don’t trust men, Frank. Because of YOU!” Okay, maybe that overzealous reaction isn’t understandable, but people were confused. Anyway, Blonde was the record in question.
So as a cynical, skeptical hater I rolled my eyes out of my head, only to search for them when I needed to finally make dinner. I pressed play on my Macbook and “Nikes” came on through the laptop speakers, and I was over it, but I persevered while doing other stuff at home.
I confidently labeled Blonde as "boring" publicly. There was one problem though. I had approached the record passively.
I had errands to run on the train, so here was your second chance, Ocean. I pressed play on “Nikes,” and my headphones lit up. I was listening to layers of sound, and then Frank sang “We'll let you guys prophesy /We gon' see the future first/Living so the last night feels like a past life,” and I committed to giving the record a committed, more honest listen.
Blonde is one of the most beautiful sonic statements of 2016. It’s an active listening record. If you’re my age, this record is a reminder that sometimes cutting through the noise and giving young people a chance is worth it.
So here’s how to approach Blonde
DON’T expect a traditional R&B record.
DON’T expect there to be any “bops” or “club bangerz.” (I like spelling bangers with a “z,” thank you.)
DON’T have something to do for at least one hour.
DO use headphones.
DO have wine or whiskey readily available.
DO keep listening even when your ADHD kicks in. Trust me, it’s worth it.
You won’t put it on for a song, but you will play this while you sit and recline while doing nothing else, but listening and being present.