Frank Ocean's 'Blonde' embraces contradictions of clarity and ambiguity, simplicity and complexity

Los Angeles Times

So much about Frank Ocean's gripping new album, "Blonde," seems to put it in line with recent high-profile records by Beyoncé, Rihanna and Kanye West, from its short-notice release to its limited availability to its expansive roster of collaborators. Push beyond the branding strategy, though, and actually listen to "Blonde" -- which appeared in physical form Saturday at pop-up shops in four cities and can now be streamed or downloaded only through iTunes and Apple Music -- and you quickly realize how different the R&B singer's project is from "Lemonade," "Anti" and "The Life of Pablo." Where those earlier albums seemed to take in as much of pop music as possible -- to use every sound and texture at the disposal of today's Internet-equipped creator -- "Blonde" is rigorously contained, almost ascetic in its clean-lined minimalism. One song is even called "Self Control." Many of the 17 tracks feature Ocean's sturdy but yearning voice over acoustic or undistorted electric guitar; others add keyboards, strings or programmed beats but avoid the layered density that defines virtually everything on the radio -- and that's despite a crowded credits list that includes Beyoncé, West, Kendrick Lamar, Rick Rubin, Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead and the Beatles (from whom Ocean borrows a bit of "Here, There and Everywhere" at the end of his "White Ferrari").


Frank Ocean releases visually arresting 'Nikes' ahead of new album

Los Angeles Times

The return of Frank Ocean continues: A day after the surprise release of his visual album "Endless," the enigmatic singer dropped a new single, "Nikes," early Saturday morning while fans wait for the expected release of yet another album, the official follow-up to 2012's "Channel Orange." "Nikes," released directly to Apple Music, is a powerful reminder of why the four-year wait for Ocean's return has felt so excruciating. I got twoooo versions," the song opens, both a nod to his own cryptic announcement a year ago about his new music and possibly a clue about the singer's intentions with this dual offering of music. And that "two versions" theme extends to how Ocean presents himself on the new track -- his delicate falsetto weaving between an Auto-Tuned chirp and a woozy slowed-down vocal. The Huntington Library has launched a crowdsourcing project in which volunteers will transcribe or decipher nearly 16,000 Civil War telegrams from Abraham Lincoln, his Cabinet and Army officers.


Frank Ocean releases new album 'Blonde' and gives away copies at pop-up shops

Los Angeles Times

Frank Ocean has released "Blonde," his second album in as many days, turning the enigmatic R&B crooner's comeback into both a test of endurance and an ambitious reworking of the album release. After weeks of rumors, the singer on Saturday released "Blonde," the official follow-up to his heralded, Grammy-winning 2012 major-label debut, "Channel Orange." The 17-track LP is available exclusively to Apple Music streaming subscribers, with one exception: Copies of the work accompanied a free print publication titled "Boys Don't Cry" at pop-up shops in cities including New York, Chicago, London and Los Angeles (on Fairfax Avenue). Dozens of pop music heavyweights are credited on the album including Andre 3000, Beyoncé, James Blake, Jamie XX, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Malay, Om'Mas Keith, Tyler the Creator, Rick Rubin and Pharrell Williams. David Bowie, Elliott Smith and the Beatles are also credited as contributors, though it is unclear if Ocean is crediting samples or if he got his hands on unreleased recordings.


Review: Coldplay goes big - well, bigger - at the Rose Bowl

Los Angeles Times

That was one of the feel-good aphorisms Chris Martin dispensed Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, just before he led his band Coldplay in "Everglow," a gently rolling piano ballad about the connection that can link two people even after a breakup. The song -- from Coldplay's most recent album, last year's "A Head Full of Dreams" -- is widely assumed to describe Martin's relationship with his ex-wife, Gwyneth Paltrow, from whom he "consciously uncoupled" (to use their oft-quoted neologism) in 2014. But at the Rose Bowl, in front of a huge audience in the tens of thousands, Martin was widening the song's scope, reframing "Everglow" as a kind of prayer for reconciliation in battle-scarred places like Orlando, Fla., Germany and Baton Rouge, La. He asked the crowd to send "good vibes" to the people of those areas -- people whose faith in others had been shaken -- and fans responded by swaying to the music as meaningfully as they could. Coldplay performs at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night.


Lou Pearlman, disgraced Backstreet Boys and NSync impresario, dies at 62

Los Angeles Times

Lou Pearlman, the disgraced music impresario who launched the Backstreet Boys, NSync and other boy bands in the 1990s before being convicted of a Ponzi scheme, has died at 62, according to the prison where Pearlman was serving a 25-year sentence. The former producer and manager died Friday at the the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, Texas, where he was held after pleading guilty in 2008 to charges that included conspiracy and money laundering. Pearlman ushered in the boom of pop boy bands after he was enamored with the success of New Kids on the Block. He started a company, Trans Continental Records, that launched to stardom the Backstreet Boys -- its five members selected by Pearlman in a talent search. Pearlman later repeated the formula with NSync.