Making movies with music: Frank Ocean

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Making movies with music: Frank Ocean

Aidan Scott/Talon

Aidan Scott/Talon

Aidan Scott/Talon

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I turn to music when I feel too much — when my throat closes with sadness, when my body shakes with adrenaline, when I want to run someplace far and stay there for a while. Feeling all of this is one thing, but visualizing it eluded me for so long.

Listening to “Blond” floored me. How did Frank Ocean capture the timeless, nostalgic nature of reflection, or make summer a place instead of a season? How did he give me sight of the unseen? Why do I think of sports cars driving alongside the beach, of drag racing at midnight, of neon lights and lilac gardens when his voice rings into space?

With Ocean, there is the chicken and egg problem at the heart of his music: is it his lyricism that inspires film-like imagery, or is it film that inspires his lyricism? The answer, really, is both. Frank has a love for movies that shines through lyrically; he is a wordsmith of an almost synesthetic nature. The literary value is in the imagery; his film-like tracks rely on sounds that suggest physicality in conjunction with lyrics that portray arbitrary experiences.

Ocean’s superpower is using details from his personal life to convey metaphysical concepts, such as love, sexuality and depression. His colorful imagery coupled with simplistic, encapsulating lines makes his lyricism walk the demarcation between beautiful songwriting and timeless prose.

Take for instance the track “Skyline To”: Ocean gives a detailed description of a summer spent with friends and lovers in this floaty, abstract track littered with chirps of birds and gentle, foggy percussion. Here, he captures the act of reminiscence; this meandering track truly conveys the thought process of a young adult who realizes their youth is coming to an end. When he sings that “Summer’s not as long as it used to be” and that these days, “Everyday counts like crazy (Smoke, haze),” it hits listeners right where it hurts.

Courtesy of Raz Yardeny

On paper, the statement is nothing special, just a simple line among many. But when sung within the folds of this bleary declaration of youth, it becomes overwhelmingly nostalgic; Ocean’s comparison of childhood to “smoke” and “haze” becomes an unbearable truth of the quick vanishing of time to listeners.

It’s the work of ambience and acute lyricism in tandem that creates this poignant listening experience.

The essential feature of Ocean’s artistry is his ability to seemingly paint pictures with sound. He has an ability to truly capture the emotion of his subject matter and then reflect it in the production of the track.

Take “Nights,” for instance. This song embodies how a subject can be imitated with sound through a beat switch that conveys the transition of day to night.

Additionally, the beat change cuts the 60-minute album at exactly the 30 minutes mark, splitting Blonde into two. By bisecting Blonde, he hints at many dualities: his bisexuality, his personal relationship with masculinity and femininity, the lyrical comparison of his youth and adulthood, etc. This is what separates Blond from Blonde: while “blonde” is a term applicable to women, “blond” is a term applicable to all, perhaps to suggest both his sexuality and his intimate struggle with a sense of self in regards to gender conventions.

The upbeat, repetitive production on the first half suggests the nature of routine in daylight (kind of like working a 9-to-5). In the bridge, the beat darkens and slows with Frank’s pitch-altered voice, representative of a sunset.

Abruptly, a harsh guitar riff cuts in, and serves the vehicular purpose of guiding listeners from day to night. The second half is incredibly moody, grim, and intense, meant to sonically parallel the retrospective, somewhat depressing aura of night. This song’s production is a symposium of skill, to the point that you can visualize the events taking place as he sings them. That, above all, is what makes this such a harrowing and enthralling piece.

Now, I know that not everyone loves Frank Ocean with the devotion I do. Ambient music isn’t for everyone, and experimental music is always tricky in the sense that it’s considered an oddity to some and boring to others. That being said, I consider it a testament to Ocean’s talent that he managed to make a name for himself in pop culture despite his unorthodox sound. That is a truly incredible feat that I and others have a great appreciation for.

In summary, I have never seen anyone ball as hard as Frank in my life. There just won’t be another artist like him. Ever. Maybe some will successfully employ the skill he does, but Frank’s sound is all his own. For now, I am content waiting years for the next album, so long as the movie in my head plays while my headphones are on.

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