Just over a year ago, Frank Ocean’s Endless dropped. Well, the album didn’t really drop. It eased its way out, as a part of a 19-day live stream that included certain periods of instrumental music and others of just silence. And then when it was out in its entirety, edited down to a 45-minute video package, it left many confused. This was not the Channel Orange follow up they had hoped for, that many oddly felt they deserved. And while the project was quickly forgotten by the masses when Ocean released the more commercially-friendly Blonde 36 hours later, Endless represents a lot more than a throwaway album to get out of a label deal.
On Endless, the studio seemingly becomes a playground, a sonic Tumblr feed. Here, he reblogs other artists by sampling the likes of Jazmine Sullivan in “Wither” and Lauryn Hill in “Rushes.” The Isley Brothers come reworked in Frank’s vocals in an “At Your Best” cover and he reblogs a cult classic movie in “Ambience 001: In a Certain Way" when he dubs a clip of the iconic drag queen Crystal LaBeija. Elsewhere, things of his own creation are ripe for revisiting, like short text posts on the microblogging service. “Comme Des Garçons” rises to the top of the heap for this grouping, only clocking in at 52 seconds. And yet there are other fully conceptualized thesis arguments, complete and polished gems, themselves littered with snarky shots across the bow at ex lovers.
“How do I crop yo new bitch out my Vine?” Ocean sings on “U-N-I-T-Y,” one of those complete gems. This is Endless.
The way that most people listen to Endless now is ripped from the video it was created to sit as a part of, split and partitioned off into tracks. They can pick and choose their favorite pieces, skipping and rearranging at will. But the artist himself never presented it this way. First, he presented it as part of the hours-long stream, and then as one unending video. This is how it was meant to be heard. Always and forever, carefully curated, as a particular experience on an Apple appliance via Apple Music.
“With this Apple appliance, you can capture live video, still motion pictures shot at high frequency, blurring, blurring, the line,” Wolfgang Tillmans intones as the opener to the project, ripped from Tillmans' own EP called Device Control. “Between still and motion pictures, with this Apple device.” He continues on the outro. Endless was always meant to be a specific, narrow experience.
It’s not unlike Frank himself. Ocean is a celebrity removed from celebrity. For the most part, fans and the masses experience him on his terms, on land that he has claimed as his own, in a bit of an immersive experience. In fact, his music since Blonde dropped has almost exclusively been released on his turf: his Apple Music radio station blonded RADIO.
With one of those releases, Ocean pulled another tactic employed on the Endless stream, lulling listeners into a false sense of monotony and then changing things. On the stream, this came as long periods of silence, of watching nothing happen on the screen, or watching Frank build things, paying no mind to the camera lens. And then from nowhere, new music. When the track “Chanel” made its debut, many going on to call it a bisexual anthem, it was played for a full hour on repeat, reportedly 18 times in total. And while after the first listen or three, some listeners may have tuned out, those who stayed on were treated to a remixed version which saw the track slow down to drop in a verse by A$AP Rocky.
“Such a good guy to Chanel, till she caught me sleeping with Sherell,” he rapped before going on to dub himself Flacko Lagerfeld. That tactic of rewarding the diligent and engaged, continued. But it wasn’t just tactics that Frank pulled from Endless. He pulled actual songs.
In the diced version of the project, “Slide on Me” comes in as track 11. That track was then resurfaced for an update. In this new blonded RADIO released version, Young Thug gets the first verse, singing. And while that brings literal music from Endless back, it also is in line with an approach of duality he arguably committed most fully to here.
“I’ve got two versions,” he wrote on Tumblr before releasing Endless and Blonde, the latter taking it further by being called Blond in some places and Blonde in others. Two versions of tracks like “Chanel,” “Lens,” “Biking,” and “Slide on Me.” Twoooooooo versions.
What all of this doesn’t consider is that Endless as an artistic effort is the most like Frank Ocean the creative. It is no doubt conceptual, which Ocean is and can be unadulterated as he exists as an independent artist, mostly unbeholden to the industry’s politics. But also, like the stream, Frank comes and goes as he pleases, appearing for a jam packed weekend of commotion, touring for a summer, or disappearing for six months. But all the while, like he literally does in Endless, Frank is building something. And though it’s not clear what he’s building yet, it’s sure to be rewarding for those dedicated enough to stick around until the end.
For more like this, revisit our assessment of Kanye West's 'The Life of Pablo' one year on right here.