The Collegian
Tuesday, August 04, 2020

2016 Music Series: Why “Endless” Is the Most Underrated Album of 2016

<p><em>Graphic by YounHee Oh, The Collegian</em></p>

Graphic by YounHee Oh, The Collegian

I sit in the sunny spot of my couch, my television showing what appears to be a warehouse in black and white. Long periods of silence. Intermittent spurts of ambient, highly reverberated music. A figure moving nonchalantly in and out of perfectly still frames. Infuriating anticipation building each second. 

That is how I remember the early days of August 2016. It was not until a warm night later in the month that the mysterious Frank Ocean ended his four-year hiatus and began streaming his new project titled “Endless” on his website. 

My heart fluttered as I took in Frank’s crooning falsetto cover of Aaliyah’s classic “At Your Best (You Are Love)” for the first time. The visual album, “Endless”, would drop the next day as an Apple Music exclusive. 

The endless amount of anticipation building ever since the release of Frank Ocean’s 2012 album “Channel Orange” finally culminated into a musical project of endless intrigue and inspiration.

Although often overshadowed by his astronomically more popular follow-up project Blonde, which was widely released later in August of 2016, I think “Endless” is Frank’s most experimental music project from both a vocal and sonic standpoint. 

The sound of “Endless” would later pave the way for the sonic landscape of Frank’s most recent songs, including his two new singles “Cayendo” and “Dear April”. In a year brimming with pop-R&B tours de force, I consider “Endless” one of the most underrated albums released in 2016. And for the sake of this argument, let’s just call it an album. 

“Endless” exhibits a near mastery of genre blending as it effortlessly shifts from rap to gospel to pop ballad, all while maintaining the sense that the album was recorded in a space as loud and echoey as the warehouse shown in the album’s complementary film. This acute sense of distance and ambience makes the album strikingly cohesive from a sonic standpoint. Yes, at times it sounds like a ChilledCow lofi hip hop beat to study and relax to, but that’s only a testament to its ability to create a consistent mood from a diverse array of genres.

What brings me back to this album over the years, though, is Frank’s vocal delivery on the songs “Wither,” “Rushes” and “Higgs.” These dreamy ballads are some of the most stunning vocals of Frank’s career. 

I’ll focus solely on “Rushes”, one of my all-time favorite songs. Almost every line Frank sings offers a new twist on the melody sung before it. It’s cautious of where it repeats itself, unfolding over light guitar strums that crescendo into gigantic waves of sound.

Frank flexes his voice as an instrument itself, emulating a guitar in some moments, and I’m still awestruck. As a singer and songwriter myself, this song reflects everything I want to create from a vocal and structural standpoint. I hope one day to make a song half as sonically arresting as this one, and the lyrics make it even more magical.

I implore everyone to listen or re-listen to “Endless.” Although the album/project/short film is still only available on Apple Music, HD versions of each song are on YouTube. 

Frank crafts complex and genre-mashing works of art in an incredibly cohesive manner, and I will not allow this album to be overlooked!

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Contact contributor Nathan Burns at nathan.burns@richmond.edu.

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