Suggested Listening: The Influences Of Frank Ocean's 'Blonde'
Flipping through the glossy blown-up pages of Frank Ocean's Boys Don't Cry 'zine, a companion piece to his long-awaited third studio Blonde, it's hard to imagine how such an expansive and dynamic body of work came together in only four years. There are lists galore, recollections of time and memories past via photos, movies, songs, screenplays, interviews, astrology. The raw elements of an album that destroys and then rebuilds any construct of what we thought a Frank album to be--or could be, for that matter.
One of those lists happens to capture some of Frank's favorite cuts. But as the final notes on the closing epic "Futura Free" fade out, it's immediately clear that there's so much more to unpack on Blonde than what he's put before us. He leaves a trail, no doubt, but it's scattered and muddied up with glitter, kush smoke and mushroom stems. Now with a few days of rotation under our belts, we can finally step back and look at Blonde as a whole, realized piece of art. Layered, emotional, complicated. So instead of giving you another playlist that's only going to distract you from climbing the mountain that is Frank's two-part opus, here's a little guide to the album's collaborators, and the influences we hear in it, encouraging you to weigh in with your own takes in the comment section below.
D'Angelo - Voodoo
Space is a defining element in Blonde. How it's filled, manipulated, left to be. Perhaps no artist does more with less (or is it less with more?) than D'Angelo. His sophomore album Voodoo is practically a clinic in space-time altering r&b, crystallized in the smoldering creep of "One Mo Gin."
Jimi Hendrix - Electric Ladyland
Blonde won't be remembered for its searing guitar work, but it is heavy on the six-string atmospherics, particularly on "Ivy" and the various interlude-like arrangements that hold the album together. Listen close and you'll hear remnants of Hendrix's "1983..." creep into the fold of Frank's "Futura Free." More a hat tip than a straight grab, but it goes to show just how deep the rock roots run on this thing.
Stevie Wonder - Innervisions
Reverie, spirituality and their various intersections with racial and sexual identity lay flush across the body of Blonde. Stevie's Innervisions opus is one of our best and earliest references for modern r&b and soul addressing identity. We even hear Wonderlove's talk-box croon at the tail-end of "Close To You," a recalibration of Burt Bacharach's iconic Carpenters cut.
The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour
From a songwriting standpoint, one of Blonde's main pillars stands in The Fab Four formula. Sure, they're credited for an interpolation of "Here, There, Everywhere" on "White Ferrari," but at its core, Blond is every bit the pop evolution that the famed Liverpool quartet envisioned in their most vivid trips to Lucy's bling-filled sky.
Yung Lean - Unknown Memory
One of the best symptoms of trap's texture-of-the-time status is just how far some artists have stretched its seemingly rigid parameters. Lean, whose effected swell is one of few others voices heard on Blonde, does this to magnificently moody and melodic ends. And its one of the best excuses to get familiar with this lean-sipping Dane.
The Cure - Boys Don't Cry
This should be a big ole "duh" moment for most of us. Not only is the track referenced by Frank as one of his favorites, but the very name of his accompanying zine is directly derived from this late seventies new wave gem.
Elliot Smith - XO
One of the quietest triumphs of Blonde is how much it does with so little. Plain and simple guitar-piano combos comb out spacious valleys for Frank's vocal flood. Smith, another master listed on "Frank's favorites," does this better than most, weaving intricate, visceral narratives through bare sonic-scapes. A minimalistic songwriter on par with your Dylans, Hendrixs and Wonders of the world, but with more disdain for the human condition.
Francis And The Lights - It'll Be Better
There's a reason you've seen Francis Starlite in the credits for so many of the year's biggest releases. Aside from being one of the few folks capable of operating whatever the hell a "prismizer" is, Francis (And The Lights,) has brought new life to the sterility of "auto-tune," arranging luscious choruses of zapped voices. A texture we hear time and time again on Blonde, synthesizing organics and electronics with affection.
Andre 3000 - The Love Below
Another no-brainer. The kinship here hardly needs to be vocalized. Andre does plenty of that for himself on "Solo (Reprise)"--coming after ghostwriting rap culture in what is arguably one of his best-ever verses. The jungle break on the second half of "Pretty Sweet" also bears an uncanny call to "Church," but The Love Below's "Prototype" is basically a blue print for any and all indie rock and r&b made after 2006. Including Blonde.
David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Mind the glitter, gold and sheer gorgeousness of the "Nikes" video. Blonde and Bowie are two planet-jumping pop-perfectionists in a pod. It's worth the mouthful, too.
MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
Nothing shook the millenial psychedelic spirit quite like MGMT's sophomore stunner. It contorts and shapeshifts as beautifully as some of the most revered sixties and seventies classics. That spirit is alive and well on Blonde, even fashioning some of its more audacious turns after the dreamlike sequences heard on Oracular Spectacular.
Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
Speaking of psychedelic spirits, or in this case, psychedelic spirituals, Blond's soaked in 'em. "Solo" comes to mind with its rapturous church organs and dueling matador and bull, like dropping a dose at the pulpit and laying on the ground to watch the painted ceilings of the cathedral come to life. Father John Misty's I Love You, Honeybear is one of the more brilliant applications of that warped, almost comical, lens, filled with bright, warm strings and deceptively deep tales, funny as they may be. A perfect pindrop to begin your extended listening session.
V/A - The Neptunes Present...Clones
Because if Frank were 10 years older, "Pink + White" might just be on this very compilation.
Hiroshi Sato & Wendy Matthews – Awakening
Finally something for the jazz heads. It's not the perfect fit. Maybe a palette cleanser if anything, but strip away all of the buoyant boogie-ness, and at its most bare, you can hear Sato's phased-out playfulness on "Say Goodbye" at work in Frank's own vocoder experiments on tracks like "Nikes" and "Close To You" just as heavily as Mr. Wonderlove's more skilled restraint.