After a fruitful weekend of new music - the release of 38 songs, including alternate versions and magazine exclusives - Frank Ocean’s staircase suddenly seems completely insignificant.
The radio silence has ended in a tidal wave, but from 1st August until the 18th, the R&B star’s lifestreamed workshop became a point of fixation. For a while, each saw motion or collision of wood panels felt like a statement in itself.
‘Endless’, a “visual album” that makes a lot more sense in the context of what followed - the rich, fluid and brazenly brave ‘Blonde’ album - is at face-value a smart insight into Frank’s process. In a roundabout, it-didn’t-have-to-take-three-weeks-mate way, it makes a very simple point: his music takes time. Tinkering and refining can be an infinite experience. It isn’t for every musician - some can strike gold smashing together three chords, leaving a mic on the floor and hitting record - but this is a man who reportedly spent 16 hours in the studio, right up until the finish line.
‘Blonde’ is the centrepiece - a vivid, imaginative record that’ll takes months to be completely figured out - but that doesn’t mean ‘Endless’ should be forgotten. It contains some of the melodic sweetness the other full-length lacks, and short-lived songs are tied together by a stream-of-consciousness sense of disorientation.
Sometimes it feels like wading inside Frank’s head, trying to pick out smidgens of sense in a murky pool. But once gold strikes - like on the opening seconds of ‘U-N-I-T-Y’, the playful drum machine beat of ‘Commes des Garçons’, the breathless one-two of ‘Rushes’ and ‘Rushes To’ - ‘Endless’ is up there with Frank’s finest moments. And anything that combines Wolfgang Tillmans’ musings on handheld devices, and the blurry lo-fi guitars of Alex G, deserves to be applauded for its lunacy.
It might seem like an injustice to leave ‘Endless’ as it is; a seamless, unmastered collection of essentially unreleased songs. But you suspect that might be the point - this is open-ended, there to be prodded at, a jump-off point for different interpretations. Frank’s staircase will either wind up dumped in a nearby alley, or at the centre of a fancy art exhibition, but ‘Endless’ will have a much bigger legacy.
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