By Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)
Frank Ocean may be the most omnipresent artist of this generation: before the big hiatus circa 2012-2017, Ocean was delivering his stories about morality, religion, social status and more with an unparalleled level of fluidity and honesty. Then when he wasn’t delivering the stories, he was becoming them, every action of his whether it be a rumor in an article or some unreliable twitter post being put underneath the microscope to see what would come of it when analysed. The binaries of being either there or gone didn’t exist to the Californian storyteller, further expanding the spectrum of music.
If Channel Orange saw the Californian singer-songwriter in his first act with last year’s Blonde acting as the tossing and turning second then the current onslaught of tracks from Mr. Ocean can be seen as confirmation of him finding his creative flow and doing everything to exercise it in an explosive final act. We’ve already seen him surprise us with Chanel, an interesting insight into his sexuality brought via some commercialism lyricism, and much like waiting for a bus to appear, another two have shown up.
The first track to be discussed is Biking, a song that isn’t really doing so much in the meaning department but is at least creative in the way it approaches its structure. Yup, Biking isn’t telling the tale between two people who just happen to be going on a good old bike ride, instead, it’s literally Frank and guests Jay-Z and Odd Future confedorate Tyler The Creator rapping about cycling. What sounds like the premise of a rather average track is thankfully saved by the different approaches by each artist and the overall cyclic form of the track: Tyler presents the smoothest verse of the entire lot, his flow delivered at a near effortless speed with the best line on the whole track by far with alcoholic way I handle bars. Jay-Z manages to avoid listing off individual bike parts a la Monster, instead implementing some solid wordplay (handlebars like a Xanax), all delivered with a very calm demeanor.
The chillness of Hov isn’t a universal vibe here though as Frank shows fragility with some tradmark transparency, speaking of sleepwalking and tying that into his unawareness and helplessness with his problems. All of this is backed up by a very simple acoustic guitar that feels just as soothing as the aforementioned Alprazolam that only ever really starts to pick up as the chorus arrives, continuing the theme of hardship but managing to present it all with some subtle bike metaphors which all go down smoothly. It would be a sin to discuss this track and not compliment Frank on that outro which couldn’t be less of a nod to Young Thug, channeling that bragadocious odd and near inaudbile delivery with true suaveness. Biking, on paper, should not work but with the creativity radiating from Ocean at the moment, it feels like he’s more capable than ever at perfecting his execution.
Ocean’s most recent track is undoubtedly gonna be the most jarring of the bunch of new tracks he’s dropped. Lens starts right off with Frank discussing his bisexuality in terms of being with a man while having to hide the relationship from the other’s girlfriend, a topic that isn’t exactly new for him but one that’s approached in a different manner which keeps it fresh. The jarring aspect that may turn off some is how autotuned Frank’s voice is: he’s shown time and time again that he has a stunning voice so to some it may come across as annoying.
However, it seems purely intentional due to the other subject matter that the song explores concerning the media and all the lenses on him with a rather ominous sounding line of “I feel their smiles on me” cropping up in the chorus. The use of autotune sounds very fake but with Ocean’s forbidden love having to be hidden, in a way delegitimising it, as well as constant media scrutiny, Ocean’s voice acts as a reflection of this. A remix of this track, known simply as V2, follows up on this theme with the inclusion of Travis Scott building on this facade of happiness due to constant media attention. While Ocean seems to live fine despite it, Scott touches on reliance on other things to avoid the reality that he isn’t allowed to show. While instrumentally it is barren, Lens’ reflective nature and introspective lyricism is perfect for the track, resulting in what very well may be Ocean’s best track of the bunch.