Theories flooded the web and our collective wits when Frank Ocean suddenly surfaced in what appeared to be a live stream after going ghost back in 2013. Turns out that “live stream” was probably not all that live in reality. What was originally dubbed Timeless turned out to be Endless; a cryptic black-and-white film created by Ocean and visual artists, Tom Sachs and Francisco Soriano, that found Frank building. Intricately, diligently, building. The end-goal was of no value. The reward being the work itself.
Tucked away in a warehouse straight out of purgatory, Endless seemed to be the answer to four year’s worth of inquiries. Isolated instrumental tracks interluding his every move. The New York Times in a rare, likely unintended rick-roll, claimed that it was all mounting towards the imminent release of Boys Don’t Cry, the long-awaited follow-up to his adored Channel Orange. August 5th came then went. No sign of Frank. The “live stream” goes blank. The world cringes at thought of being duped once again. Life may not seem terribly different lined up back-to-back with 2012, but if you peel off the edges, the pulp is more than telling. Now faced with a potential dictatorship and harshly crystallized instances of police brutality that are more visible than ever, the stage was set for Frank’s next act, timely as ever despite a clear disregard for timeliness. Starved for new music and his mere presence, Frank seemed to be delivering it all at once.
For two weeks, absolutely nothing. Had Frank given up on us for giving up on him? Were we no longer worthy of the fruits of his labor? Collaborators painted a different picture, but our skepticism was warranted. It was easy to lose hope, but hope wasn’t what we needed. We needed that new Frank piece to set us straight, to recalibrate and purge ourselves of the junk code that had cluttered our meme-a-minute minds over the years since Channel Orange‘s reign.
Last night, Frank reemerged on the stream, back in action after two weeks rest. Only this time the boxes left (literally) on the cutting room floor were being assembled into a staircase as music played through Sachs’ wall of speakers. The notes are muffled. Not quite tin-can resonance, but enough to make you wonder what the hell was actually going on. Was this the album, or just another expert-level troll? Before you could even decide, lush, fully-formed compositions bleed out. Suddenly the line blurs between wishful thinking and fulfilled prophecy. A new album is not only finished, but delivered. The only problem: this apparently isn’t the album we’ve been waiting for.
According to Rolling Stone, Endless is merely a shadowy preamble to a multi-layered project that is slated to arrive in-full this weekend. And it makes sense. While Endless features mostly unheard music (featuring James Blake, Jazmine Sullivan, Michael Uzowuru, Om’mas Keith and Radiohead‘s Jonny Greenwood) with the exception of a fleshed-out version of the previously-released Isley Brothers cover “At Your Best (You Are Love),” once you get beyond the initial shock, it’s clear that this is not the full reveal. Which is not to say that the music showcased in the film is anything short of brilliant. All of the raw elements are accounted for; wordplay that borders on full satire, compositions that range from pure sonic dissonance to strangely subversive r&b and nonsensical techno jabs, Frank’s voice soaring higher than ever. But they seem more like sketches than complete thoughts. Beautifully vivid and realized sketches, but sketches nonetheless.
When it comes to an artist as dynamic and detail-driven as Frank Ocean, the clock is nothing more than hands ticking away into the abyss. And if we were to be left on-hold for four years, Frank’s promise is an attack from all angles. Film, music, print; echoing the approach of a recently fallen icon, for which he grieved deeply and publicly. Whether it’s worth the wait is still to be determined. But if Frank has earned anything, it’s the benefit of the doubt. With Endless, we’ll wait, grinning straight through.