Frank Ocean pleads for a lover to stick around on Blonde standout track "Self Control"



Loss and absence seem to have been big themes in music news recently. Late last week, word broke that SMAP, a popular J-pop boy band active since 1988, would break up. The New York Times likened the news to "the Beatles' breaking up, the airing of the final episode of 'Seinfeld' and the 'conscious uncoupling' of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin all rolled into one." On Saturday night Canadian rock band the Tragically Hip, who've been around since 1983, played their final show in their hometown of Kingston; the band decided to call it quits after front man Gord Downie announced he had terminal brain cancer in May, and longtime fan Justin Trudeau (you know, the Canadian prime minister) was in the crowd.

On the other hand, some acts have returned from long absences. Just yesterday, Illinois second-wave emo heroes American Football announced that in October they'll release their second album, which like their debut will be called American Football—it'll be their first in 17 years. But music's big return of the past week has been that of Frank Ocean, who just put out three albums after a wait of more than four years since the masterful Channel Orange: a visual album called Endless and two different versions of a full-length called Blonde (the album art for Apple Music's exclusive stream of Blonde is missing the "e," even though the company spells the title with the "e").

Absence hangs over my favorite cuts from Ocean's disjointed, subliminally confrontational albums—though his tunes tend to be serene and quiet, there's a lot of tension baked in, especially in the track I come back to the most, Blonde's "Self Control." Ocean's lyrics about a doomed couple evoke heightened emotions—lust, affection, confusion, loneliness—just vaguely enough that you could describe the relationship as either dead or dying depending on your mood. Whatever the case, the lovers know they have to disentangle themselves, which means they could disappear from each other's lives in a moment. 

Ocean's yearning cries make it clear that he's still struggling to let go, regardless of whether the person on the other end of his messages is technically an ex yet. That becomes even plainer as a somber, quasi-orchestral swell joins its solitary guitar melody and Ocean harmonizes with his own vocal overdubs to sing, "I, I, I know you gotta leave, leave, leave / Take down some summertime / Give up just tonight, night, night." Ocean understands it's over, but he defiantly sticks his hand down the neck of the hourglass to grab a fistful of sand—love doesn't always end when a relationship is broken, and some of us stumble backward as we try to move on.

To hear "Self Control" you'll have to deal with Apple Music, which has the exclusive stream of Blonde. That is, unless you went to Evanston on Saturday for Frank Ocean's pop-up shop and got a copy of his Boys Don't Cry magazine, which includes the CD version of Blonde—that edition has a different track listing than the one on Apple Music, and the magazine appears to spell the title with an "e."

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