Frank Ocean, Kanye West and the art of the surprise album

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Originally published by The Skinny.

We want new music, and we want it now! But what’s worse? Frank Ocean’s ridiculously postponed record drop, or Kanye’s confusion over The Life of Pablo?

Over a year ago Frank Ocean posted the first of many cryptic hints on his website, suggesting a follow-up to 2012’s masterpiece channel ORANGE was on its way. It was a picture of Ocean sitting next to a stack of magazines entitled Boys Don’t Cry, captioned: “I got two versions. I got twoooo versions. #ISSUE1 #ALBUM3 #JULY2015 #BOYSDONTCRY.

Since then, the wait for Boys Don’t Cry has been an emotional rollercoaster and Frank Ocean fans have had no chill. The ex-Odd Future member and R’n’B god has been so elusive that fans resorted to putting up ‘Missing: Frank Ocean’ posters across New York. Any sightings can be directed to “808-WYA-BRUH.”

Malay, Ocean’s close collaborator and co-producer of channel ORANGE, recently addressed Ocean’s new album – or lack thereof – in a Reddit AMA. He told fans that “art cannot be rushed”; an age-old expression we have begun to ignore when it comes to albums. This urgency seems to stem from a generation of impatient fans who are used to finding new music instantly available online.

And on to the weekend’s big reveal: Ocean has finally dropped not one, but two new albums. The first, a visual album entitled Endless, makes sense of the live-streamed art installation that has been running on his website since the beginning of August. What’s more, Ocean revealed that Boys Don’t Cry is the title of his new magazine, and that his long-awaited full album is actually titled Blonde. Who knew?

We finally have the two versions we were promised (or does that make it three?), with the streamed version of the record differing from Blonde‘s physical release. The lyrics to opening track Nikes make it official: “Special shout out to the icon dynasty, Slip-N-Slide Records / I got two versions, I got two versions, I got two versions.”

But is it really important for fans to remain informed throughout the album making process? Should we be kept out of the loop? Compare the release of Blonde to the release of Kanye West’s 2016 album The Life of Pablo; in terms of hype levels there are similarities between the two, but the latter was a complete circus.

Even before TLOP even dropped, there was a great deal of confusion over its title. Yeezy changed the name a grand total of four times prior to the record’s release. We were first led to believe it would be called So Help Me God, then it was re-announced asSWISH, after that it was changed to Waves, before he finally settled on The Life of Pablo.  Initially the album was released as a Tidal exclusive, and featured just ten tracks. Over the course of four months, as Kanye added, re-recorded and replaced tracks on the album, TLOP eventually reached a peak at 20 tracks. In theory, an interesting way of breaking the conventional album release format and showing Kanye’s dedication to involving his fans in the process – in practice, it all just got messy.

There is a clear differentiation between Frank Ocean, who has been working tirelessly for years, shrouded in mystery, in order to achieve perfection and Kanye West, who referred to The Life of Pablo as “a living, breathing, changing creative expression,” and constantly updated fans about the album via Twitter. Essentially it all comes down to a matter of preference; do we prefer to have every tiny detail about an album fed to us, or are we quite happy to sit back and wait for a new release to drop? Both processes are rollercoasters, it just depends which one we would rather ride.

Hot New R&B Vol. 7

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Artwork by Ellis McKenzie.

Originally published by The 405.

We’ve got an extra special treat for you this month, in the form of an interview with R&B duo Alpines. To celebrate the return of one of the most exciting R&B duos around right now, we were lucky enough to grab a quick chat with Alpines to discuss the new album and their favourite plants, naturally.

As well as this, we’ve also got the grand returns of Mac Miller, Jacques Greene and PARTYNEXTDOOR and new releases from Boston singer/producer Johan and rising London starlet JONES.

Mac Miller – Dang! (feat. Anderson .Paak)

Dang indeed! Mac Miller may have had his ups and downs throughout his career but he has well and truly redeemed himself with this one; and anything with Anderson .Paak on it is always a winner. You’re probably thinking, “Wow, this beat is great! I wonder who produced it?” Well, ladies and gents, you’ll be glad to know we’ve got you covered. The track was produced by Pomo, who is best known for co-writing the stand-out track ‘Am I Wrong’ on Anderson. Paak’s debut album Malibu – the pair are clearly a match made in heaven. Mac’s pal and frequent collaborator Rex Arrow takes on directing duties once again for the brightly-coloured, Groundhog Day-influenced video, which fans of Tyler the Creator’s aesthetic will definitely enjoy.

Jacques Greene – You Can’t Deny

It’s been a long time since we’ve heard any new material from Montreal’s finest Jacques Greene – two years to be exact, since he released the EPs After Life, After Party and Phantom Vibrate; but that’s not to say he hasn’t been keeping busy since then, banging out some great remixes and DJ’ing at various venues and festivals all over the world. If this track doesn’t get your little heads bopping and your wee toes tapping, then I don’t know what will. The only thing that could potentially make it just that little bit better would be if a female R&B singer laid down some vocals over it. Another Tinashe collab on the remix maybe Jacques?

Alpines – Heaven

Along with the release of their stunning new single ‘Heaven’, Alpines also announced the release of their second album Another River, due out on 28th October; and who better to tell you more about the new single and forthcoming album than the duo themselves.

Hey guys, love the new single ‘Heaven’! Can you explain a bit about the making of it?

Bob: Thanks very much. ‘Heaven’, and our previous single, ‘Completely’, came from some beats I made when Catherine was away for a week with her family. I was messing around, trying new things, and ran some drumbeats through this cheap synth and it resulted in that really saturated drum sound, which I loved. When Catherine returned she was really inspired from her trip and wrote a couple of really good songs really quickly on top of what I had been doing. I think it’s no coincidence that those tracks ended up as singles.

The recent singles seem to have taken a darker shift, particularly on the production side – was there any influence behind this?

Bob: Well I never like to stand still, the idea that all our records would sound similar really bores me! I wouldn’t say it was darker, maybe just a bit more intense, or deeper. This time, I really tried to make sure the sounds really matched the sentiment in Catherine’s lyrics which are the most honest lyrics she has ever written. I wanted the sounds to match that raw emotion.

You released a beautifully shot behind the scenes video, filmed by Jason Baker, during the making of ‘Completely’ and it was a really interesting insight into how the two of you work together. How did that come about and do you plan on doing any more of these?

Catherine: We wanted to give people an idea of how we write and record and this seemed like a great way to do it. We are good friends with Jason and he came to our studio one day last summer when we were in the thick of writing the album. Bob had created the beat for ‘Completely’ but I was yet to write the chords, melodies and vocals around it. What is amazing is that Jason captured the earliest moments of the making of the song. When we start writing with a beat, my vocal melodies, the lyrics and the piano chords all become a symbiotic addition that meld together to form the song. We are planning on making more films with Jason so watch this space!

Your new album Another River is due for release on 28th October – can you tell us a bit about it?

Catherine: Writing this album was a labour of love and was quite an intense process because we recorded over 100 songs and were determined to make something we were really proud of. Another River feels like new ground and it is a big step forward for us. Also we were really inspired by the power of minimalism and spent a lot of time reducing the tracks to a place where we felt the compositions were raw and focused. We felt that the more refined the compositions became the more soulful the songs sounded. This was important to me, to make sure my lyrics were very open hearted. I have come to learn that my favourite writers and musicians have that ability to be very pure with their words. Artists such as Sampha, Amy Winehouse, Patti Smith and Loyle Carner move me on a daily basis with their heart breaking openness and were an inspiration in writing this album. I think there is so much beauty in that directness and that trust they have in themselves and their listeners.

Finally, I know you’re both fans of nature, and alpines are also a type of plant, so what are each of your favourite plants?

Catherine: Well for this album the desert represented what we were trying to achieve in the music, it became symbolic of the album and is reflected in the artwork. So I have become fascinated by desert plants and their ability to survive. Cactuses are so amazing the way they can hold onto the smallest amounts of water and stay strong.

Bob: I like plants that defy harsh conditions and just go on and on living, which is why we were inspired by Alpines because they live in the highest reaches of the mountains and can withstand extreme temperatures and changes. So I also really like cactuses and other succulents, or moss and lichens. What is also great is that out of nowhere cactuses and succulents can produce these amazing flowers.

Johan – High in the Woods

Johan’s vocals are incredibly striking and unlike anything you’ve ever heard before; so much so that they have sort of become his signature. He tends to lay his signature raspy vocals over woozy synths and gritty 808s, to make deep, dark and alluring electro-R&B, which perfectly matches his aesthetic. Lending a helping hand on production on ‘High in the Woods’ is Robin Hannibal of LA-based R&B duo Rhye, who reached out to Johan after hearing his track ‘danger_us’. Hannibal’s advice and expertise has clearly paid off, helping to slicken up Johan’s production and push him to achieve his full potential, with ‘High in the Woods’ being his most ambitious release to date.

JONES – Air

JONES has been busy supporting fellow Londoners HONNE on their North American tour recently, but that hasn’t stopped her from releasing new music and announcing her debut album New Skin, due for release on 7th October. The album will feature previous singles, ‘Melt’, ‘Hoops’ and ‘Indulge’, but latest release ‘Air’ is taken from a special compilation put together by London-based indie label 37 Adventures, entitled Odd Numbers Volume 1, featuring a range of up-and-coming artists from the world of pop and R&B. JONES’ delicate vocals glide over dance-y synth-led production, building up to the track’s infectious and euphoric chorus, which will be circling round your head all day. JONES will be following up the release of her album with a short UK tour so you should probably catch her at one of those intimate gigs before she blows up.

PARTYNEXTDOOR – Not Nice

Dancehall has seen a massive resurgence this year, with even Justin Bieber drawing influence from the genre on his hit track ‘What Do You Mean?’, and it’s been pretty much impossible to avoid Rihanna and Drake’s massive collab ‘Work’. Don’t lie, we’ve all spent the whole year dutty wining to ‘Work’ in the club. The mastermind behind the track, you ask? Drake’s protégé, and Kylie Jenner’s maybe short-lived squeeze, PARTYNEXTDOOR. Never one to disappoint, PND has brought the dancehall vibes back on ‘Not Nice’, the first release from his new album P3. But spoiling us with one new track just wasn’t enough for PARTYNEXTDOOR, so he followed it up within a matter of weeks with the equally addictive ‘Don’t Do It For You No More‘ and then dropped the album. The party never stops.