Frank Ocean released his 3rd project, Endless on August 19th, 2016, a day before his 4th project, Blond(e). The album was recorded in a number of different locations, from Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, to Abbey Road Studios in London, to Gráfica Maiadouro in Portugal. The studio sessions’ time frames range from 2013 to 2016. Although the album contains many contributors, Ocean’s second studio album was self-produced. The Channel Orange follow-up was released on Def Jam Records, a label Ocean expressed has disdain for.
Fans of Frankie will know all too well about the waiting period separating his debut and sophomore album. After the immediate success of Channel Orange, the singer from New Orleans began work on his new project in early 2013. Fourteen months later Ocean announced the new record was almost finished. But as years went by, die hard fans became impatient, until finally Endless and Blonde appeared on Apple Music. Besides its lack of pop appeal, the former has been often overshadowed by the latter due to its medium. The eighteen-track album is only available to listeners with an Apple Music exclusive video platform. Only later did Ocean provide a tracklist to separate the 45-minute body of music.
Ocean follows Beyonce in the sense of having an album with both visual and audible aspects to it. When compared to the production quality and choreography of Lemonade, Endless is humbled. However, the film companion to Frank Ocean’s second album has a certain fluidity and intimacy that could rival a big budget such as that of “Queen B’s”. The video’s concept is simple, it depicts Ocean constructing a wooden staircase, from start to finish. The filming is mostly stationary, with the occasional slow pan or cut. Through the course of the album, the viewer observes Ocean cutting, gluing, painting, and assembling a spiral staircase, all in black-and-white.
Frank later revealed he learned from famous carpenter Tom Sachs about the use of plywood in the construction of appliances. The video is self directed and provides a constant moving progression to follow while listening. After it was released, one of Ocean’s friends offered the idea that the video was a metaphor for Ocean’s extensive work on the album. Each step had to be built individually before they could come together as one, homogenous, structure.
The audible facet of the album is similar to the visual part, in that, the songs flow seamlessly into another. The album alternates with instruments, from guitars and other strings, to piano, to synths and programed drums, and Frank alternates from rapping, to R&B vocals, to cutting vocals altogether. Even though the music all ebbs into the same sonic stream, it resembles Ocean in the video because of its refusal to be pinned down or become predictable. Tracks range from 11 seconds to nearly 10 minutes. Although Christopher Edwin Breaux (Ocean’s legal name) is credited as the album’s only producer and hold the only writing credits for much of the album, many artists from genres all over the musical spectrum culminated in order to create the project. Lo-Fi indie solo artist, Alex G, lends his acoustic guitar to five songs on the second half of the record. Electronic artists Arca and James Blake lend their hands for programming and synths. On the second song, ”(At Your Best) You Are Love”, Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead orchestrates the London Contemporary Orchestra for the backing track. The song next in sequence, “Alabama”, contains vocals from up-and-coming British singer and producer, Sampha. The album plays with the power of an epic, surging up and down in volume, until coming to a climax in the 16th song, “Rushes”. Ocean belts the line, “Twin peaking/highs and lows,” as a punching electric riff cuts through the aural atmosphere.
The main critique Endless received was the sound was unfinished. When compared to its predecessor, the album sounds less of a finished product and comes off as unpolished. However, the album’s formlessness and lack of gloss is comforting in a way. It shows the steps Ocean must take from demo to single. The production also is much more personal due to his choice to produce, compose, and perform a large portion of the album himself. The result is instead of Frank singing on an instrumental, the music follows, supports, and blends with the instrumentation. Endless won’t ever be remembered in the light that Blond(e) will for the genre-bending sound with both pop appeal and the feeling of uncompromised honesty. But the experimental stream of Frank Ocean’s consciousness both sheds light on the maker’s creative process, while also having the potential to be an underrated gem, hidden from casual listeners.