On the 10-year anniversary of Channel Orange,Frank Ocean gave us the gift of two new Blonded Radio episodes. Just like any anniversary gift, it was not what we had in mind, though. While he announced that he is indeed working on new music in Malibu, he didn't technically drop any of said music.
The new episodes follow two discussions. The first episode, "blonded Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," is a 30-minute track in conversation with psychologist Dr. James Fadiman on the topic of microdosing psychedelics as psychiatric treatment. Underneath their dialogue, a symphonic electronic track pulses and swells, scored by Ocean.
The second episode, titled "blonded ENERGY!", follows discourse with Chinese healer Mingtong Gu on the practice of Qigong. Here, Ocean’s backing track plays with repetition, syncopation, and the dissolution and reformation of melody.
Once again, the elusive musician has pushed his audience to re-evaluate their conception of ‘music.’ This Blonded Radio drop is not off-base for Ocean, whose work has become increasingly narrative over time. The Xmas episode may have brought new music with it, but "Merry Xmas everyone" served more to tie a proverbial, melodic bow around the talk with Wim "Iceman" Hof, than as a standalone song.
It's only natural that his next step would remove the song itself, presenting conversation as a musical centerpiece, colored in through Ocean’s sonic vocabulary. In the newest episodes, a pause in their talk becomes a rest, a laugh a triplet. Dr. Fadiman and Gu take turns against Ocean’s backing tracks, cycling in and out of melody, and harmony. Ocean’s tracks gain a voice in the dialogue, in lieu of Ocean’s own voice, which does also occasionally chime in.
In "blonded Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," Dr. Fadiman’s voice maintains a central role in the composition, as Ocean’s track grows around him, echoing the experience of psychedelics to further illustrate their talking points.
At the outset of "blonded ENERGY!", Gu’s voice is filtered down, almost percussive beneath a piano and sporadic electronic riff. Later, it crashes against static-filled waves of sound, then disappears entirely into a beatific guitar phrase, its energy transferred.
This also marks the influence of Blonded collaborator, Vegyn, whose own music parallels the structure explored in Ocean's new Blonded episodes, with melodic beats stitching together scattered conversations. The two seem to be moving away from traditional structures of pop music.
Ocean's fantasies once populated his work, allowing listeners to slip into worlds of youthful love on Blonde, blasé bliss on Channel Orange, wry yearning on Nostalgia Ultra. Now, he suffuses fantasy in commonplace conversations and interviews. Is Frank Ocean a journalist?
He certainly is not the same, young Tumblr musician we first knew, and fans have mixed feelings about the new episodes.
Some were happy with whatever they got.
Some found it oddly familiar.
Some even acquired new skills.
Safe to say, all were hoping for new music.
The shift in Ocean’s approach comes at a unique time in music. House has been popularized, with Drake and Beyoncé confirming its mainstream status, for better or for worse. The structure of music is dissolving, as songs receive nightcore, slowed and reverbed, and drill remixes (sometimes all at once). Sampled conversations have long been a staple of the ambient genre, with bands like the KLF, and in hip-hop with skits and spoken intro/outros.
Ocean’s new sound strikes a chord between. While Dr. Fadiman and Gu urge listeners to open their minds about altered states of consciousness in the new Blonded episodes, Ocean opens listeners’ own understanding of what constitutes a song.
But yes, we’re still waiting for the album.
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