I have to respectfully disagree with my colleague Austin Reed on this one. I don’t think four days is enough to absorb most records, even if listening to it is all you do. If listening to it all I do, I’m more likely to experience satiation than any sort of epiphanies about the depths of the record in question. Many of my favorite records are ones I listened to a few times, liked, and then shelved for weeks, months or even years. Where Austin and I are in agreement is the inscrutability of Blonde. This is the type of album that, come December, we will still be teasing, parsing and unraveling as we put together year-end lists.
As I alluded to in my initial reaction to Endless, inward is a perfectly reasonable and possibly more challenging direction for Mr. Ocean to look. Given the monolithic sonic structures he assembled on Channel Orange, any attempt to go bigger may well have collapsed in on itself. Blonde’s subtlety may be its greatest feature — and the easiest to overlook. But for an album this understated, there are still a few low-hanging fruits that offer more immediate pleasures.
At the confluence of slow jam and scalpeled pop song is “Pink + White”, co-penned and produced by Pharrell Williams and Tyler, the Creator. Crisp percussion and walking bass-line that dips in and out from that infectious one-note piano hook reflect the color-wheel of Ocean’s influences, including flecks of 60s surf that apparently inspired the album. It clicks immediately, and reveals its nuances as you go.
The surreality of the lyrics “Pink + White” are inescapable (“If the sky is pink and white/If the ground is black and yellow” is one of the most evocative lines on the record), but there’s a sense of unity in the message. The theme of duality on Blonde has already been much-discussed. There’s a coda on “Pink + White” that captures it perfectly. When Frank croons “It’s all downhill from here,” it sounds like a resignation, an acknowledgement that this will be as good as it ever gets. But the corollary is that right now, at this moment, you’re at your peak. For a generation that struggles to live in the moment, it’s an oddly reassuring statement.