Boys Don't Cry, the magazine distributed at pop-up locations the day this unlike-titled album was released, featured an essay in which Frank Ocean affably reflected upon his infatuation with cars. Allusions to parallels between vehicular travel and other aspects of life, such as making music, were drawn, his relief in completing the Channel Orange follow-up made apparent. For those who felt the proper debut wasn't forthcoming enough with hooks or traditionally structured songs, this is bound to seem less like a luxurious joyride on a freshly paved motorway than it does an interminable stay in a repair shop waiting lounge. In terms of pop appeal, none of it approaches "Novacane" or "Thinkin Bout You." The focus is more on Ocean, the extensive list of "album contributors" -- possibly a combination of studio collaborators and mere inspirations -- notwithstanding. He's often accompanied by only keyboards or a guitar or two; less than one-third of the tracks include the sound of his voice and that of a beat within the same space. Over the course of an hour, all the sparsely ornamented ruminations can be a bit of a chore to absorb, no matter how much one hangs on each line. The writing talent on display, however, is irrefutable, whether it's a sharp aside, the precision and economy in the chorus of the Beyoncé-backed "Pink + White," or the agony evoked in "Self Control" (with an outro multi-tracked to pull heartstrings). Through references to movement, and events that take place in automobiles and swimming pools, Ocean's words continue to be fueled by his memories of youth and young adulthood in summertime, while recreational pharmaceuticals are a factor more than ever. The lines regarding relationships are acutely descriptive with frequently abrupt transitions from deep to shallow observations. There's a little more playfulness to go along with the wistful heartache, Ocean's perverse sense of humor shows most when he follows his mother's stern anti-drug message with an ebullient vocal-and-organ number that opens with him "gone off tabs." In the closing "Futura Free," one of several cuts where processing distorts his voice the way a fun house mirror deforms a body, there is much weight to him to remarking "Don't let 'em find Pac/He evade the press/He escape the stress," then declaring "I ain't on your schedule." He's clearly bemused with the industry and fan entitlement. An undoubtedly reactive work, this is undiluted and progressive nonetheless.
by Andy Kellman