Decoding Frank Ocean’s Blonde

On August 20, Frank Ocean released his first full-length work in four years (two if you count the soundtrack for the Endless visual album). As Blonde (alternately spelled as Blond) reached Apple Music, Ocean organized giveaways of a limited-edition magazine, Boys Don’t Cry, at four pop-up shops around the globe. A page in the magazine lists Blonde contributors, inspirations, and sample sources; as of this writing, it’s the only evidence of official album credits he’s given us so far.

As a result, half of this playlist references Blonde guests such as Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000, and Tyler, the Creator, and session players like Om’mas Keith of Sa-Ra Creative Partners. However, the other half of the list attempts to deduce how Ocean created his new album’s dense computer washes and hazy, amniotic sound. Thanks to the aforementioned Boys Don’t Cry tip sheet, we know that Brian Eno’s ambient explorations, Jonny Greenwood’s moody soundtracks, and Jamie xx’s melancholy club tracks make up his sources. There are parallels to Bradford Cox of Deerhunter’s fluid sexuality and adolescent anomie, Raury’s blend of airy indie-rock and conscious rap, Julee Cruise’s ethereal “Falling” theme for Twin Peaks, and Mazzy Star’s essential ode to long California drives with nothing to think about, “Fade Into You.” In total, this collection of gospel, electronic, rap, pop and rock numbers are a varied contrast to Blonde’s washed-out haze. Think of Ocean as a good chef who reduced dozens of ingredients into a tonally consistent and thought-provoking work.