Decoding Endless: Frank Ocean’s Wild Years

Almost everything about Frank Ocean is shrouded in mystery and contradiction. He’s brash and outspoken, yet a virtual recluse; he’s a modern media star, yet he rarely engages with the modern media; he’s one of music’s most distinct voices, but he’s also a cypher. If you’re looking to his new album, Endless, for clues to who the man is, you’ll be disappointed. For one thing, this may not actually be his new album — maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. All we know is that the music here is baffling and beautiful. The spare, ominous acoustic balladry of “Rushes To” recalls the gothic folk of British experimentalists Current 93, while the album’s skittering narrative threads, dark gospel underpinnings, and political nods recall everything from Erykah Badu’s masterwork New Amerykah Part One to the latest Kanye West. There’s a refracted funk that channels ‘00s underground R&B group Sa-Ra Creative Partners, which makes sense considering that Om’mas Keith from Sa-Ra provides piano on the album. The moody electronic ambience of producer Arca, who has previously worked with everyone from Kanye to Bjork, is all over this album. This playlist looks at some of the album’s collaborators and influences, as well as sample sources. It’s a companion piece — a helpful set of footnotes to this strange, gorgeous record.