Frank Ocean has made his long-awaited return with acoustic tracks ‘Cayendo’ and ‘Dear April.’ Previously double A side vinyl exclusives, the singles finally hit streaming sites on April 3rd. While his November release ‘In My Room’ now seems aptly titled, Frank’s acoustic isolation releases feel more appropriate for lockdown blues.
In true Frank Ocean fashion, both ‘Cayendo’ and ‘Dear April’ are emotional pictures of love. They contain little instrumentation, the focus instead on their lyricism. Interestingly, in a Rolling Stone interview last year Ocean stated that he no longer believed in strength in vulnerability. He expressed his discomfort with ‘The expectation for artists to be vulnerable and truthful… Like, in order for me to satisfy expectations, there needs to be an outpouring of my heart… I’m more interested in lies than that.’ This is unsurprising from one of the most private men in pop, but some of my favourite lyrics are Frank seemingly at his most vulnerable – ‘I’d do anything for you (in the dark)’ from ‘Seigfried,’ for example. So, how do his most recent releases fare with the removal of his characteristic honest introspection?
‘Cayendo’ is a dreamy half-English half-Spanish song which translates to ‘falling.’ Its only instrumentation is a guitar; Ocean’s vocals are pushed to the forefront, lamenting ‘I still really, really love you, like I do, if you won’t, then I will.’ ‘Dear April’ is musically minimalist too, again looking upon a failed love, ‘what we had won’t be the same now, but you will make something new.’ It is interesting that when Frank claims to be leaving truth behind, his lyrics seem as romantically vulnerable as ever. In fact, his new acoustic tracks seem even more vulnerable for their lack of elaborate production.
Though melancholic, Frank’s lyrical unrequited love appears accepting rather than angry or accusatory. The soft guitar and smooth vocals mirror this. The songs differ lyrically and tonally to his previous release, rap-heavy track ‘In My Room,’ from which the stand out line for me was ‘Quit being violent with me, you make me violent,’ just as emotionally charged as ‘Cayendo’ and ‘Dear April’ but far less passive. Even if he’s no longer pouring out his own heart, Frank’s new lyricism of lies does retain an illusion of honesty in its nuance. ‘Cayendo’ and ‘Dear April’ upon first listen might pass by without a second thought, but paired with ‘DHL’ and ‘In My Room’ they provide (hopefully) a promising look at a varied upcoming album from Ocean. Though not instant-classics like Blonde, Ocean’s change in direction comes at the right moment – the ease and softness of his new releases suitable to pass the blurry days of self-isolation. Contemplative and calm, their narrative of forced acceptance of change echoes our own situation.
Having loved Frank’s music for years, it’s always exciting when he finally makes another comeback. Admittedly, however, the new tracks themselves have just missed the mark for me. It’s conflicting when you don’t entirely love a new release from a favourite artist upon initial listening. Perhaps this is due to his changing style; I’ve been rediscovering Frank’s debut mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra and, expectedly, his recent releases differ. His lyrics are still full of nostalgia and unrequited love, so perhaps it is the acoustic production I have a slight issue with – lovely, but less striking and distinctive than I have come to expect. It may also be that expectations of a Frank Ocean project are now too high; perhaps it’s okay not to love everything he puts out instantly. Nonetheless, he reasserts his deserved reputation as a brilliant lyricist.
Indisputably, Frank Ocean has always known exactly how long to make us wait, his releases impeccably timed. It seems fitting that the man who has provided the music for our voluntary self-isolation for so long should become the soundtrack to our mandatory self-isolation as well.