Pillbox

Endless re-release: the Frank Ocean album you haven't heard

In August 2016, after years of total silence, Frank Ocean finally reemerged with new music. It started with a mysterious livestream of a mostly empty warehouse, watermarked with an Apple Music logo in the bottom corner of the video. What followed was two and half weeks of mundane construction, as Frank himself cut wood and spray-painted boxes with little context and no explanation. At one point, he completely disappeared from the stream, until he suddenly returned to the shock of eager fans who had been watching a loop of an empty room for days on end. Upon his return, it became clear that Frank was building a staircase, and after a few more hours of assembly the video was accompanied by new music. Frank completed the staircase, walked to the top as the music swelled, and the stream cut out. Fans went into a frenzy, begging for a new album and were frustrated after watching what was essentially an extended black-and-white construction tutorial. Their pleas for new music came finally just a few minutes later, as Frank’s sophomore album Endless was released in the form of a 45-minute edited video of the construction that took place during the livestream. However, after only a few hours after releasing Endless, an Apple Music representative informed the music press that Frank would have something more to share in a few days. That something more was Blonde, Frank's seminal 2016 album that persists in its relevance in music culture almost two years later.

But as Blonde rose to prominence, and Endless was never released in proper album format, the latter faded into obscurity aside from a handful of dedicated fans who made bootleg album files ripped directly from the video. Fans lauded over "*Endless* CDQ," an almost mythical original version of the album that wasn't washed out like the version played in the original video (CDQ stands for "compact disk quality").

Then, a New York Times profile of Ocean revealed how his Def Jam contract had interfered with his work for years, and thus explained why the artist had been absent for so long. In that profile, Frank shared how he got out of his Def Jam contract: he was obligated to release one more album under his contract, but wanted to release his next true album independently. So, he made two albums: Endless, the visual album, which fulfilled his contract obligations to Def Jam but would never be a full traditional album release, and Blonde, which was released independently two days after he fulfilled his contract. The wait for new Frank Ocean music was, in large part, caused by an extended game of contractual chess that culminated in a double album release after four years of silence.

Frank also revealed in the profile that he bought the rights to all his original masters for his music back from Def Jam after going independent, and thus held the rights to later release Endless on his own terms. Hardcore fans hoped that this meant a re-release was imminent, but in true Frank Ocean fashion, they heard nothing for over a year. And then, in November 2017, seemingly out of nowhere, Frank listed CD, DVD, VHS and vinyl copies of Endless - along with some new posters - on his website for sale.

Fans rushed to purchase copies, and found that product listings said that the physical releases would ship in 6 to 8 weeks. Of course, 8 weeks came and went, and no news was shared over the status of their orders, despite having already been charged. And then, after even more months of waiting, customers received physical copies of Endless for the first time last week. Ripped versions of the CD were uploaded online and the Endless CDQ was finally realized, a year and half after its original release. Debates over the official tracklist were finally resolved, and fans got to hear the album in its intended crisp, fully mastered format.

The album itself is nothing short of magnificent. Some fans of Ocean's debut album, Channel Orange, were disappointed by Blonde's experimental sound. Endless is even more experimental and indulgent, bordering on ambient in nature. Tracks like "UNITY" and "Slide on Me," though, bring the distinctly "Frank catchy" originality that has brought him such acclaim. "Rushes" and "Higgs" are some of the more impressive vocal showcases in Frank's discography, while album-closer, "Mitsubishi Sony," features an extended instrumental outro that is as lavish as it is industrial. The album shines lyrically, too, as Frank's poetic lyrics are made stronger and more impactful by his otherworldly range and performance.

The story of Endless is a microcosm of Frank's story itself. Its existence and release were mythicized for years, and its absence from streaming platforms would drive most fans to lose interest. But upon its long-awaited release, every agonizing second of waiting was proven to be worth it. Endless is fantastic, and should be a nice treat for listeners of Blonde who have never heard the perpetually absent album.