Songbook, by Chris Cornell

The first time I heard Chris Cornell’s voice was on an Audioslave CD my dad gave me in 2006.

I might have heard “Black Hole Sun” on the radio before that, actually. But when I was a kid, the radio didn’t play songs from specific artists – it was just a magic box that spit out music constantly. I couldn’t absorb very much from it back then, only that I loved everything I heard. So, when I have my true musical awakening – which I discussed in the Minutes to Midnight post – that signaled a shift in how I perceived music, and for the first time I could truly attach myself to individual bands and artists and declare myself a fan. And, as I said in that post, Audioslave was in the top five from the start.

The wacky guitar gimmicks. The consistency and impressive melding of the bass and drums. And that voice – wailing, screeching, threatening to tear itself apart over everything. Chris Cornell was in a bad state during the recording of Audioslave, but even in a bad state, ravaged by drinking, smoking, and whatever the fuck else Chris did in the time between Soundgarden and Audioslave, he was ethereal. Unique. A truly absurd vocal range and a sharp ear for interesting music, no amount of substance abuse could fully suppress Chris’s creativity and natural talent. And he continued to demonstrate his multi-faceted musical talent that first began to emerge at the end of Soundgarden’s first life, moving from psychadelic grunge to adapting Rage Against the Machine’s rap-rock instrumentals – without the rap, of course – to the more alternative, nuanced style of Out of Exile and Revelations, until the tensions between himself and the former components of Rage simply could not continue together.

And then it was back to an on-again, off-again solo career. 1999’s Euphoria Morning was an interesting departure for Chris, with a heavy acoustic lean that still indulged in Chris’s favorite lyrical subjects. Grunge softened, morphed and merged with a more classic kind of hard, adult rock. But his solo career, which Chris was ready and primed for, was put back on the shelf when Audioslave came calling. In 2007, with Carry On, came another kind of shift, the feeling that it was a natural evolution of Chris’s solo style, now incorporating the alternative sound he’d learned from Audioslave. And who could forget the Bond theme, probably one of the best of the modern Bond run. Another big swing at making it as a solo artist, now that two bands were in the books behind him.

I try not to think about Scream most of the time, but what it demonstrated to me was that Chris had no fear, musically. The idea of a grunge god producing an entire album with a hip-hop producer, even one as well known as Timbaland, was laughable. And the album that resulted is, kindly, a mistake. It’s a good lesson in understanding that you probably shouldn’t pursue every idea that comes into your head, particularly when it has as big a chance to fail as Scream did. But by god, he did it anyway. That’s impressive to me. And the songs, when freed of their awful, uncharacteristic production, can work quite well – listen to the “rock version” of “Long Gone,” or the acoustic version of “Ground Zero” from this very album, Songbook, and you’ll hear the strength of the lyrics and song structures. They’re just not electronic pop tracks.

It’s interesting to me that Chris couldn’t stay solo for very long at any point in his career. You’d think that a musician as independent and creative as he was – his solo albums are really strong – would be able to do just fine on his own. But maybe the shadow of Soundgarden stood too tall over him. It never seemed like people ever talked about Chris Cornell as a solo act, only in the context of being a compelling, vital frontman. Maybe he rushed too quickly into Audioslave, rendering Euphoria Morning a curiosity in his discography rather than the starting point it was intended to be. In any case, his second foray into solo work lasted about as long as the first, when Soundgarden came calling for a successful resurrection.

But even with Soundgarden back to pay the bills – or perhaps because Soundgarden was back, and, aside from a revitalized musical output for the four of them, provided steady income – Chris was allured by solo work. He did a set of solo acoustic tours, usually under the “Songbook” header, and the first tour in 2011 is where this live album came from. And I promise I’m going to get to the album. But I’ve got some stuff to say before that.

There’s no good way to shoehorn it in, but Higher Truth is where Chris should have gone directly after Carry On. It’s a quieter album than Carry On, kind of a cross between that album and Euphoria Morning, but it’s just as strong, maybe even stronger, than any solo work he’d done before. It made sense to me that he would pursue it, even with Soundgarden attempting to put together another album – Chris needed the outlet and it was worth it to put Soundgarden on hold while he finished the album.

But now, that Soundgarden album may never be finished. Chris Cornell is gone, reportedly by his own hand. The sun is dimmer today.

I don’t want to talk about any motivation, not this soon, not this early, when the report was just released a few hours ago, as of posting time. It makes me uncomfortable. I spent the entire day asking why, and I have no answers. You could look at his subject matter – Chris was fond of writing about death, dying, passing on. But I would hesitate to call that indicative of his mindset, when it’s been his bread and butter for so long. Celebrities like Chris have a different face in public, and it shouldn’t be used as a barometer of his true feelings, but he seemed so content in recent years. Soundgarden was rolling, a successful reunion that actually produced new, good music. He had the freedom to do whatever he wanted even with Soundgarden being more or less constantly active since their reunion, and he used that freedom liberally, remaining active on his own the entire time. He released a new charity single just two months ago.

When you look at it that way, it’s difficult to understand. I think we will understand, in time. But it’s unimaginably sad to me. I want to know why, now. I want to understand, now.

You look at the big four of the Seattle grunge movement – Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam – and you see that three of the four frontmen are now dead. How lonely Eddie Vedder must feel today.

Temple of the Dog reformed, a one-off tribute band brought back into the public eye, for the 25th anniversary of their only album last year. Temple of the Dog was formed by Chris to memorialize Andrew Wood, frontman of Mother Love Bone, who died of a heroin overdose. Perhaps Vedder, who only contributed a little bit to Temple of the Dog, will memorialize Chris the same way.

I only saw Chris Cornell live one time, probably at the nadir of his musical relevance (and I do mean that kindly, but sincerely), in 2008, on the Projekt Revolution tour, the co-headliner next to Linkin Park. I’ll admit that I barely remember anything about the concert – I was 15, I was there for Linkin Park, the openers were just bonuses – but it sticks with me that that was the only chance I took to see him, now more than ever. I had my other opportunities – in 2012 during the first Songbook tour, and in 2014 when Soundgarden was touring with Nine Inch Nails – and I passed on both of them. “He’ll be around again,” I said, both times. I really wanted to see a Songbook show, but I willingly said “not this time.” And now there won’t be another time.

I’m going to think about that a lot.

As much as I enjoy Chris’s solo albums, and of course his work with Soundgarden and Audioslave, there’s no album of his that I love more than the live Songbook album. It’s the greatest hits retrospective he never did – not commercially, anyway – that strips away everything and puts Chris’s voice at the forefront, his greatest creation. It reveals him as the powerful singer and deft songwriter that he always has been. You look at the track list and it’s hit after hit after hit – “Call Me a Dog,” “Can’t Change Me,” “Fell on Black Days,” “Like a Stone,” and of course “Black Hole Sun.” The deeper cuts – “I Am the Highway,” “Scar on the Sky,” “All Night Thing,” the never-professionally-recorded “Cleaning My Gun.” The two smartly-chosen covers of “Thank You” and “Imagine.” And even the new track, “The Keeper,” to close out the album. Songbook is the retrospective to listen to today, and next week, and whenever you think of Chris Cornell and you just want to hear the man belt out some tunes. I don’t think there’s a bad song on here – even the opener, curious Scream hidden track “As Hope and Promise Fade,” is still a compelling listen here.

Chris gives a bit of insight into a couple of the songs, and his mindset when writing them. “Ground Zero” is preceded by the message that anger and hatred will not fix the horrors of September 11, while Chris explains on “Can’t Change Me” that it was the last song written for the album, which to me seems like a common theme for successful lead singles. You even get a bit of humor – “Imagine” is preceded by Chris noting that it’s a “good Easter song,” playing it the day before Easter that year. Of course, the Christian-friendly line “Nothing to kill or die for / and no religion too.”

There will never be another Chris Cornell. A one of a kind figure, an amazing songwriter with a generational voice. Soundgarden was the first grunge band to break into the mainstream, and though Pearl Jam is the most successful and revered of them – and they, alongside Nirvana, will likely be the only two of the big four enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – Soundgarden’s place in history can never be forgotten. And though Chris’s second and third acts, with Audioslave and with his solo career, will certainly not be as fondly remembered as his work in Soundgarden, when taken as a whole, Chris has had a career stronger and more important than most in rock history, securing him in the upper echelon of rock musicians for all time.

It will take time for us to know the full extent of what happened in that hotel room in Detroit. We may never know or understand why Chris did what he did, what he was feeling that night, and in the time leading up to it. If it was depression – and Chris had talked about suffering from depression in the 1990s – then the disease has claimed another life it never deserved to take. If it was something else, perhaps we will know in time. Perhaps we will have the knowledge to understand Chris in a way that we didn’t understand him in life. Regardless, it is a massive loss, for the music community, for the world, and for the pantheon of heroes I had, as a child and as an adult.

Say hello to heaven, Chris. Blow the doors down.

100-songbook

Released November 21, 2011

1 hr, 13 min

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call the police / american dream, by LCD Soundsystem

99-callthepolice

Released May 5, 2017

14 min

So this is why LCD Soundsystem came back.

I wondered what their plan was when James Murphy first announced – and pre-emptively apologized for – the band’s return early last year. It always seemed to me like Murphy put the band to rest far earlier than he may have needed to, given that the band had just released its best album in 2010, and were at perhaps the peak of their popularity. Maybe that scared him, and he needed to go away for a while and figure out what he really wanted to do with the rest of his life. This doesn’t have any basis in facts or anything like that – I don’t think he’s really talked about why LCD Soundsystem stopped existing for five years.

But they’re back, with a Christmas single being the herald of a new era of the band, released on December 24, 2015, before anyone knew (for sure, anyway) that the band was working on a full return to activity. LCD Soundsystem spent 2016 on the festival circuit, celebrating their return while quietly working on a new record. A band as revered as LCD certainly doesn’t need to record an album to justify their existence, but, as I mentioned earlier, it always felt like James Murphy had far more to give to us than he did during the band’s first run, and now we’re finally seeing that, as two actual singles expected to be from the new album surfaced, in the double A-side of “call the police” and “american dream.”

The dichotomy is interesting, almost like a cohesive primer on the band. “call the police” is a fast-driving rocker, bright and upbeat musically, but with an undercurrent of melancholy throughout the lyrics as Murphy struggles to be heard above the cacophony of instrumentation below him. It reminds me a lot of “All My Friends,” one of LCD Soundsystem’s best songs in their catalogue, and absolutely my favorite. They both barrel forward on instrumentation that threatens to sweep Murphy away before he can say his piece, and he finally gets it all out by shouting above the noise. It’s a very Sound of Silver-era song, I think, and it’s the side of LCD Soundsystem that I’ve always loved the most, even if I think This is Happening is a better album.

By contrast, “american dream” is a synth-driven slow dance, with the signature melody being a haunting, dripping rhythm that feels like you’re being surrounded. The song has a clear narrative, following the protagonist (whose actions are being described by Murphy throughout the song) and describing their feelings of inadequacy as they trudge through their life, those feelings infecting everything they do, describing the experience as a real American dream. It could easily be an autobiographical song, and Murphy is certainly no stranger to writing songs of that nature, but it also feels like a very modern analysis of life in 2017, particularly in the sort of big city where Murphy made his name and his home. He could have easily seen this story any number of times around him.

This is LCD Soundsystem distilled down to its essence – soaring punk/rock, heavy doses of electronica, either standalone or mixed in, and diagnoses of what it’s like to be human today. LCD Soundsystem has never been a band of big ideas and navel-gazing – James Murphy is far more concerned with what he can see in front of him, and sharing those feelings with whoever’s willing to listen. And there are many, many people willing to listen, hanging on every word, anxiously awaiting the day when, for the first time in seven years, they can wake up to the joy of a new LCD Soundsystem album.

Minutes to Midnight, by Linkin Park

98-minutestomidnight

Released May 14, 2007

43 min, 23 sec

There’s a small selection of albums that hold a very strong personal significance to me. They tend to be albums released around the time of a significant event in my life, or they were the first album I heard of what became one of my favorite artists. Sometimes it’s both. Occasionally, it’s something else.

Christmas 2005 is when I generally consider my true love of music to have begun. Before then, my radio was permanently tuned to AM 1600 – Radio Disney. My knowledge of the popular songs of the day were dictated entirely by what Disney wanted to hear, and what happened to be playing in commercials, or in my dad’s truck. But something – I’m not particularly sure what, I don’t really remember any more – compelled me to change stations, and I started delving into the world of rock music. With that, I asked my parents for two CDs that Christmas – Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory, and Green Day’s American Idiot.

No, neither of those are the album we’re focusing on today. I’m getting to it.

Nowadays, I’m only mildly embarrassed to admit that Linkin Park was my favorite band for six years, long after Hybrid Theory shot them into the spotlight far faster than anyone could have expected. But back then, after getting Hybrid Theory and quickly filling out much of the rest of my collection, picking up everything else they’d done through the beginning of 2006 in rapid succession, I was unabashedly in love with the band. They were the first band that widened my musical taste, and though it wasn’t particularly compelling or good at the time (top 5: Linkin Park, Green Day, Audioslave, Metallica, and 3 Doors Down. I know, I know, I’m sorry), it was growing, and that was the important thing. And I think that the variety in Linkin Park’s music after Meteora – and even before that, with Reanimation and Collision Course – went a long way in crafting the eclectic taste that I have now.

So, as 2006 rolled on, Linkin Park had been more or less dormant for over a year. 2005 saw the Music for Relief concert, Live 8, and nothing else. Behind the scenes, the band was locked in an ugly battle with Warner Bros., attempting to either break out of their recording contract or get a better contract signed. While Linkin Park was on the shelf, Mike Shinoda released Fort Minor’s debut album The Rising Tied and toured behind it, while Chester Bennington tried and failed to do the same with his own side-project, Snow White Tan (which would resurface in 2009 as Dead by Sunrise – more on that some other time). So, while I slowly became more and more passionate about the music I listened to, the band I loved the most was trying to figure out their next step. And, by 2006, they’d sorted out their label issues, and were able to move forward with an album that, for the first time, would truly challenge their fans and the perception of the band they’d cultivated since 2000.

Minutes to Midnight is not a nu-metal album. It’s not a metal album, though a couple songs have twinges of metal embedded in them. It’s not a “rap-rock” album, either. What it could be categorized as, loosely, is an alternative rock album. Hybrid Theory and Meteora were cut from the same cloth, using the same template – power chords, rapped verses, screamed choruses. Bridges that had one or both of those elements. Short songs with a basic lyrical structure that tackled nebulous topics that cut right to the heart of issues that teenagers held near and dear. If you mixed and matched songs from the two albums and played them to someone who had never heard Linkin Park before, and challenged them to determine which songs were from which album, they couldn’t do it with even one song. It’s like Metallica’s Load and ReLoad, except they were recorded three years apart.

By contrast, Minutes to Midnight is a wild departure. “Given Up” is comfortably in the territory of typical Linkin Park, but that wasn’t the song fans first heard. That honor instead went to “What I’ve Done,” which is firmly in the alternative rock realm, something Linkin Park had never even come close to touching before. Chester wasn’t screaming. Mike wasn’t rapping at all. The vinyl scratches were few and far between. The power chords weren’t quite as basic and overpowering. We’d heard stories of the album being a departure, but I don’t think anyone quite expected it to be so significant. And that wasn’t even the beginning.

The Minutes to Midnight album cycle was the first one that I’d ever followed as a music fan. I remember when the band said that the title was “T____ and T_____”, with the blanks to be filled in. Fake albums filled torrent websites, usually under the title Trials and Tribulations to match the supposed album name. Snippets of “What I’ve Done” came out slowly, either as brief previews, or as ringtones, or radio snippets. I had all of them on my iPod, and it combined to be about a third of the song, missing most of the significant sections – the verses and the guitar solo (another innovation that was alien to Linkin Park before this album). I remember the debates about if QWERTY – a song debuted at the band’s comeback shows in Japan in August 2006 – would make the album (it didn’t). I remember more snippets leaking out as the release approached, and people being baffled by them – why were they so light (comparatively)? Why was it so different?

What were they doing?

Here’s another fun aside about “What I’ve Done” – myself and a friend of mine had created a rock music forum around the time that “What I’ve Done” leaked, a day ahead of its planned release date. Because I was obsessed with Linkin Park at the time, I knew exactly where to find it, and in order to drive traffic to the forum, I approached my friend with an idea – what if we hosted the leak? He was into it, so we did it, thinking that the people who came for the track would stick around to talk about it.

They didn’t, and the forum closed three months later. Worth a shot.

When Minutes to Midnight dropped, leaked four days in advance because it was 2007 and every single album that mattered was guaranteed to leak in those days, fans were shocked by the songs on the album. By my count, four of the album’s twelve tracks are outright ballads – soft and quiet, slower, songs that you would never have imagined Linkin Park was capable of making. “Leave Out All the Rest” was the most accessible of these tracks by far, and ended up being the album’s final single, featuring Chester singing about a dream of being an ethereal being, hoping that he’d left enough of an impact on the world to not be forgotten. It was a far cry from songs like “One Step Closer,” where Chester implored the listener to shut up because he was being pushed to the edge of his sanity. Songs like “Valentine’s Day” and “In Between” were in a similar vein, being some of the softest songs Linkin Park had ever made, splitting time with harder, more conventional songs like the aforementioned “Given Up” and “No More Sorrow”.

Political commentary found its way into the Linkin Park catalogue with this album, as well. The title itself is vaguely political in nature, a reference to the Doomsday Clock, a visual conception of how close the Earth is to destruction by way of nuclear war. The “clock” ticks closer to midnight when the state of the world worsens, and resets when things get better, usually determined by major geopolitical events related to nuclear weaponry. “Hands Held High,” Mike Shinoda’s only rap showcase on the album, is far more overt, lambasting leaders that can’t get through a speech without stuttering, and condemning the destruction and terror that war brings, bankrolled by people who will never feel the effects. It’s transparent and basic, but the song’s delivery makes it a biting commentary, the likes of which the band had never even come close to touching before.

The album’s centerpiece is undoubtedly closing track “The Little Things Give You Away,” a 6-minute epic that describes the effects of Hurricane Katrina and indicts the late, unorganized relief response. The song is a slow burn that, once again, Linkin Park had never done before; the entire first minute simply introduces the underlying drumbeat, slowly adding instruments on top of it until finally building to the first verse, layered on top like just another instrument. Chester’s delivery is airy and haunting, commanding attention in a far different manner compared to his usual guttural, shouting vocals. The track continues to build in instrumentation, finally breaking open after the second chorus into a simple, but soaring, beautiful guitar solo, which itself leads into a wonderful three-vocal outro that creates an incredibly powerful closing moment for the album. Perhaps more than anything else on Minutes to Midnight, this song is a statement, announcing that Linkin Park had a lot more in the tank than anyone could have expected.

Because of course the band was aware of the perception of them in the eyes of the general public. Linkin Park was the soundtrack of angsty teens who overemphasized the problems they thought they had, and critics treated them accordingly, lambasting everything they did even as their albums soared to the top of the charts and sold like hotcakes in the early 2000s. (Hybrid Theory went diamond several years ago, despite inexplicably peaking at #2 on the Billboard charts during its initial run, and every album they made from 2000 to 2008 went platinum.) Minutes to Midnight, despite the massive shift in sound, did the same, selling a mind-numbing 625,000 copies in its first week, going gold faster than nearly any other Linkin Park album before or since (Meteora, I recently discovered, somehow sold 810,000 copies in its first week). This album represented the peak of their commercial success at the same time that it represented the death of the style that had gotten them to this point in the first place.

Interviews around the time of the album’s recording point to a specific desire to shift away from the nu-metal style that defined Linkin Park. Don Gilmore was out as producer, replaced by the legendary Rick Rubin, who undoubtedly had a large hand in crafting Linkin Park’s new sound. They wanted to knock down the walls surrounding their music, and keep them down forever. Their stated goal was to never again stay within the confines of a single genre, and instead simply make the music that sounded interesting and engaging to them. And true to their word, they’ve never gone back, evolving their sound and branching out in fascinating – sometimes bizarre – directions with each subsequent album. And none of it would have been possible if they hadn’t decided to take the first step with Minutes to Midnight.

I don’t listen to Linkin Park very much any more. Their time in the spotlight of popular music is long gone, and they’ve settled into having a static fanbase without feeling the need to ever cater specifically to that fanbase. That obviously doesn’t affect my own fandom, but my interest waned as I got older and I felt separated from the music that had crafted the soundtrack of my high school years. Very rarely does a person ever stay the same, or even remotely similar, as they go through high school and college, and that’s reflected in their interests and the things they enjoy, as well as how they feel about those things. When I think of Linkin Park, I think of specific memories of my high school years instead of how I felt back then. I still listen to every album, and I buy the studio albums when they come out, but a Linkin Park album is no longer the event it used to be in my life. Instead, I use that energy on more eclectic albums and pursuits, like, for instance, staying up until midnight to watch a live stream of a guy cutting wood, that abruptly stops for two full weeks because the New York Times ruined the surprise of the album being released.

Yes, that’s about Frank Ocean. Thank fucking god he dropped the album.

But I still listen to Linkin Park on occasion, both the new material and the songs and albums I grew up with. It reminds me of going to shady fansites trying to get bootleg recordings of new songs being performed live, or finding the “rare” tracks that they’d never released officially, long before streaming and online stores made those songs easily accessible. A Linkin Park song nowadays feels like a time machine, turning back time to when my musical passion was in its infancy, and I still thought 3 Doors Down was a great rock band.

We all grow up some day, I guess.

The OF Tape Vol. 2, by Odd Future

97-theoftapevol2

Released March 20, 2012

1 hr, 3 min, 23 sec

I don’t know if any group in music today exemplifies the arc of internet fame more than Odd Future.

A bunch of kids hanging out, doing dumb shit, and putting out mixtapes individually and as a unit. In an era where the Internet was becoming one of the most important promotional tools for any musician, where dropping tracks on Myspace was still something people could do to get noticed, Odd Future took advantage of these tools and used them to create a rabid, fiercely loyal fanbase.

Teenagers – mostly white skater kids – loved Odd Future. The central subject matter of most of the group’s songs catered exactly to what most teenagers thought about – violence, getting high, and doing stupid shit with your friends just because you could. They could tap into these feelings and fantasies because they were teenagers. In 2010, right at the start of Odd Future’s ascent to fame, Earl Sweatshirt was 16 years old. Tyler, the Creator was 19. Hodgy Beats was 20. Odd Future was a bunch of kids making music that they wanted to hear, and it turned out to be the kind of subversive, self-aware rap that kids all over the country wanted to hear. It wasn’t mainstream, it wasn’t what you would hear on the radio – but it was great stuff. Through all the uncomfortable subject matter that they would often resort to, there was real talent bubbling underneath the surface for every member of Odd Future. It was talent and promise that many of them would capitalize on in some way or another as the group ascended at a meteoric rate.

One of the biggest catalysts of Odd Future’s rise to fame came with the disappearance of Earl Sweatshirt, which we’ve discussed on the blog before. Though he was sent to Samoa in order to straighten out his increasingly worrying attitude problems, no one knew that when news first hit that he was gone. Odd Future used Earl’s absence as a rallying cry for their fans, making “Free Earl” the group’s mantra for the entire year that he was gone. That, combined with the commercial release of Tyler’s first proper album Goblin, catapulted Odd Future into the mainstream view. Hodgy Beats’s duo with fellow member Left Brain, called MellowHype, began releasing albums of their own.

But 2012 was the big year, possibly the biggest of the group’s collective career. And that brings us to the pinnacle of Odd Future as a unit – The OF Tape Vol. 2.

The album is a sequel to one of the group’s oldest mixtapes, and is made in the same vein – tracks from every member of Odd Future, many of them featuring multiple members on one track. Everyone gets their time to shine on one or more tracks, from Tyler all the way down to Jasper Dolphin and Taco Bennett, which is probably more leeway than those two should be given. It’s a mixtape in its purest form – a bunch of friends having the time of their lives, all with professional production and recording tools.

But we’re not really here to talk about the music. A lot of it is great, to be sure – highlights like “NY (Ned Flander),” “Analog 2,” “Snow White,” “P,” and, of course, “Oldie” anchor the album and float it through some of the less powerful tracks, the ones that focus more on humor and less on substance.

“Oldie” is the ultimate Odd Future track, featuring every core member of the group dropping a verse, even the elusive Frank Ocean. If you wanted to know exactly what Odd Future was about, this was the track to play – each member gets to focus on their own material for a verse, distinct but cohesive at the same time. And the track’s highlight is clearly Earl Sweatshirt’s verse, his first in two years, after returning from “exile.” It’s something that he would explore in more melancholy detail when he returned to making his own music, but here he’s just enjoying being around his boys. The music video is the purest expression of Odd Future – shot on the spot, during a group photo shoot, where the track is played over the speakers. Tyler starts rapping along with his first verse, and eventually gets the entire group to mouth their own verses into the camera, creating a classic music video impromptu. Just like the group itself.

What The OF Tape Vol. 2 signified more than anything was that Odd Future could be themselves and still hit mainstream, commercially successful gold. Tyler blew up. MellowHype landed a stronger record deal. Domo Genesis emerged into his own more and more. And, of course, the crown jewel of The OF Tape Vol. 2, Earl Sweatshirt’s extended comeback verse on “Oldie,” signifying his permanent return to the music industry and Odd Future. And Frank Ocean, already gaining a significant amount of momentum from his 2011 mixtape nostalgia,ULTRA., continued to show his loyalty to Odd Future while priming himself for his own breakout album in channel ORANGE, released later that year.  Essentially, the tape launched the careers of nearly everyone in the group, and gave Odd Future Records the clout it needed to support the group’s work without the need to partner with any major labels.

That marked a turning point in the dynamic of Odd Future.  The group hasn’t released a collaborative album since The OF Tape Vol. 2. They still collaborated on each other’s albums – Tyler’s Wolf, Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris – and performed live together on a regular basis. But they were growing up, and growing up meant growing apart.

Tyler’s third album Cherry Bomb features just Syd tha Kid in terms of Odd Future members (more on that in a bit). Earl Sweatshirt’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside features none of the main members. Frank Ocean has not appeared on any Odd Future-related albums since 2013. MellowHype broke up in 2015, though Hodgy Beats and Left Brain stated that they would continue to work together under a different title.

Teenagers grow up and become adults, and careers can lead people in different, sometimes separate, directions. In 2015, Tyler posted a tweet reminiscing about Odd Future, in a manner that made it seem as if the group was no more. He backtracked fairly quickly, clarifying that he was just looking back and letting nostalgia take the wheel, but the signs that Odd Future had permanently changed are everywhere. Earl seems to have walked away from Odd Future completely, and Syd and Matt Martians – collectively known as the Internet – have both explicitly stated that they were no longer part of the group, though they remain tied to the record label. The days of Odd Future as a collective are long gone – all that remains now is a legacy, and the divergent strands of the careers that it birthed.

All except for Mike G, of course. Stop getting high and release a real album for once.

California, by blink-182

96-california

Released July 1, 2016

42 min, 36 sec

In the beginning of 2015, Tom DeLonge decided that he’d had enough of the blink-182 reunion, and in a very public spat with bandmates Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker, quit the band for the second time in almost exactly ten years. Rather than fold under the guise of an “indefinite hiatus,” however, Hoppus and Barker stood their ground, content to allow DeLonge to take his ball and head back home to Angels & Airwaves. They berated him and questioned his work ethic in interviews, and brought on Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio to help them fulfill performance commitments. Hoppus and Barker must have seen something in the union, as Skiba was then brought on full-time, to complete the record that DeLonge refused to sing a note for. The end result – after a reboot with a new producer that resulted in the scrapping of that previous album – is California, the first blink-182 album in five years.

Replacing a band’s lead singer – even in a band with two that share vocal duties equally – is no small task. Ask Stone Temple Pilots, who fired Scott Weiland, watched replacement Chester Bennington walk away after being unable to handle fronting two major bands at the same time, and are now scrambling to figure out what to do now that Weiland is dead. Ask Journey, who sat in lead vocalist hell for over a decade until discovering current singer Arnel Pineda on YouTube, of all places. Ask Black Sabbath, who’s had as many vocalists as they’ve had instrumentalists. A band either enjoys a renaissance or dies a slow, embarrassing death when someone new comes in to take over vocals.

blink faced a particularly difficult struggle, already having hit the age where their best songs and most successful record are moving from radio-dominating pop-punk to classic rock of the rapidly aging 1990s. It can be embarrassing to watch a 40-year-old Hoppus sing about how nobody likes him when he’s 23, or belt out ridiculous joke songs that he’d likely written as a teenager, at such prestigious music events as BlizzCon and E3. Not to mention the morning show circuit.

But this isn’t something new to them, as they faced these same problems during their initial reunion in 2009, four years after DeLonge indulged in his most bizarre obsessions and musical inclinations, appearing to permanently mature as a musician with Angels & Airwaves. Hoppus and Barker were left to pick up the pieces, putting out an interesting but relatively uninspired record as +44, promptly abandoned and left to die the moment DeLonge came knocking. This time, +44 remains in the basement – Craig Fairbaugh and Shane Gallagher put down their phones in disappointment when they saw the news, probably.

So, California. If Neighborhoods was an appropriate title for that record’s music-by-committee sound that arose from DeLonge, Hoppus, and Barker all recording separately, then California appropriately represents Hoppus taking the wheel and steering the album himself. The album has it all – loud pop anthems, reflections on the band’s home state, and, of course, two unnecessary joke tracks, because this is Mark Hoppus and this is what Mark Hoppus does. At least they’re funny.

California was recorded as a unit, at a blistering pace, with a brand new producer in John Feldmann, filling the void left by the deceased Jerry Finn, who had produced the band for years before their initial breakup. (blink produced Neighborhoods and Dogs Eating Dogs themselves.) When Feldmann came on board, the band had already produced an album’s worth of tracks. When going over the music, however, they decided that it would be better to simply start from scratch with Feldmann, which resulted in the entirety of California being recorded in the space of three months, from January to March 2016. Neighborhoods, by comparison, took nearly two years to finish.

What Feldmann brought in his production is a more cohesive sound than Neighborhoods, while also encouraging the band to move past their comfort zone, expanding more into quieter, acoustic tracks in the vein of “Boxing Day” from 2013, without reveling in the strangely dark, negative sound of blink-182. Instead, the band embraces a bombastic, anthemic sound in songs like “No Future” and “Bored to Death,” songs of teenage rebellion that still work, sort of – as much as songs of that nature can work coming from middle-aged men. Other tracks reflect the band’s age – songs like “Rabbit Hole” and “San Diego” are world-weary and reflective, with the former’s refrain of “I won’t fall down that fucking rabbit hole” emphasizing the band’s – or, more accurately, Hoppus’s – desire to not fall by the wayside, refusing to succumb to the call of becoming a nostalgia act.

“San Diego,” as a side note, is rather clearly a song about DeLonge, though not nearly as bitter and petty as “No, It Isn’t” was from +44’s We Don’t Need to Whisper in 2006, when the wounds of DeLonge’s first departure were fresh. Instead, it reads as settling the issue – Hoppus is saying “you’re gone, and we don’t want to go back to you, and that’s fine. Have a nice life.”

But California certainly invokes nostalgia, both in its subject matter and its sound. blink-182 still sounds like the perennial pop-punk giant that it was in the 90s and early 2000s, and though their sound has expanded since then, the core, dated as it may be, remains the same. Hoppus still writes from the perspective of his teenage self, and the band tries its hardest to play to an audience twenty years their junior. Their music is aimed at people going to Warped Tour, whether they’re teenagers or people who went to the Warped Tour when blink was headlining over a decade ago.

I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with that. You’re not going to hear political songs from blink-182, or songs about the struggles of parenthood, or the middle class. blink-182 isn’t a band for the working man, even as they continue to look more and more like that class of people. But it still puts them in an uncomfortable position, as the band is, more than ever before, a vehicle for Hoppus to continue to live out his teenage fantasies.

Because this is no longer the Mark, Tom, and Travis Show – now that DeLonge is out of the way, it’s the Mark Show all the way. Barker has always been content to stay in the back and drum his ass off while DeLonge and Hoppus handle the songwriting, and he continues to do so for California. Matt Skiba, then, conveys a sense of just being along for the ride. He certainly contributed to songwriting, but all of the songs are credited to the trio as a unit, with select co-writers for certain tracks. What Skiba brings to the table, besides a stronger command of the guitar than DeLonge’s twinkly, wandering play style after the reunion, is a voice that’s closer in register to Hoppus’s, but with a far sharper edge – similar to DeLonge’s and almost as distinctive, but much lower in pitch. His voice is very well-suited to pop punk, as well as harder punk, which Alkaline Trio engages in. Skiba thus provides a nice change of pace – and, so far, he seems much more interested in staying on pitch and following the flow of the band’s music than DeLonge was after the reunion. Skiba is a net plus, eliminating the band’s previous divisiveness while providing a steady hand and steady voice. It’s not a shake-up or reinvention – it’s getting the band back in the right lane, a steady hand on the wheel, keeping them on the highway instead of taking an exit into new, unfamiliar territory.

That’s probably the best way to describe California – familiar and relatively unchallenging, but comforting in that familiarity. This isn’t a +44 record masquerading as a blink album, which was a real concern of mine when DeLonge left the band in 2015. Instead, it’s unfiltered Hoppus, one of two pop-punk masterminds that helped propel blink-182 to unforseen heights in the 1990s and continues to hit those same veins in 2016. And as it turns out, unfiltered Mark Hoppus sounds a lot like blink-182.

This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

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Released February 26, 2016

57 min, 39 sec

The sophomore album is a tall prospect, particularly if an artist’s first album was an immediate commercial success. Really, any album that immediately follows a smash hit is one of the hardest to make, because there’s a balance to be maintained – the elements that made the first album a hit can often run contrary to an artist’s intentions, and the end result can either be just as big, a bit of a drop-off, or a complete disaster, depending on how proficient the artist is at balancing those disparate elements.

Massively successful debut albums can bring a great deal of relief, but they can also become an unbearable weight. You have forever to make your first album – the second one, not so much. So how do you follow up a multi-platinum album? Do you hit those same mega bullet points? Do you go with what your heart says? What if your heart says “hit those fuckin’ bullet points?” What will the critics say? Will you give a fuck either way?

It’s a delicate, delicate balancing act. It’s one that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis faced together for the first time in the wake of the unexpected success of The Heist, held up as the pinnacle of independent music, while also enduring a firestorm of controversy, criticism, and general discussion regarding the realities of Macklemore being a white man in the very black realm of hip-hop. His success was undoubtably attributable to his real, undeniable talents as a rapper, and Ryan Lewis’s fantastic grasp on the art of production. But it was also undoubtable that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are both palatable to the general populace. And no, it’s not because of Macklemore’s hairdo.

But Macklemore is aware of this. He’s always been, going back to his own debut album, 2005’s The Language of My World. That album led off with the track “White Privilege,” a blunt, powerfully introspective track about the truths of being a white man in hip-hop. I’m pretty sure about five people listened to that album, but even now, eleven years later, Macklemore struggles with his position in music, perhaps even moreso than when he was a random hipster in the heart of Seattle’s underground scene. Now, that struggle is in front of millions of people who, for one reason or another, found themselves drawn to The Heist, be it through “Same Love,” “Neon Cathedral,” or “My Oh My.” The balance of fun, hip-hop criticism, analysis of white privilege, and struggles with drugs and alcohol formed a powerful balance on The Heist, with Macklemore weaving between the themes earnestly, if not as smartly or subtly as one might hope. These themes return on the sequel, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, with the added lens of Macklemore now being a mainstream superstar.

Many artists have turned inwards after enduring a wave of commercial success. Green Day’s Dookie resulted in Insomniac, angrier, grittier, and stranger than its predecessor. Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run and the legal issues that followed was channeled into the immensely stark, desolate Darkness on the Edge of Town. Even Weezer responded to The Blue Album’s success with the odd, charismatic Pinkerton. Macklemore’s version of this is less extreme – This Unruly Mess I’ve Made sounds very much like a logical follow-up to The Heist, the Meteora to Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory. But there are several moments of introspection and self-awareness that would not exist without The Heist being a commercial success, and it’s clear that fame has begun to weigh on Macklemore, much as even minor success in music had done to him a decade prior. There’s a reason he dropped off the face of the Earth for five years after his original debut album, after all.

That reason was alcohol, if it wasn’t clear.

Four years have changed the duo. Album opener “Light Tunnels” gets right to the point, placing Macklemore at the Grammys, running through his thought process as he’s thrown into the very heart of mainstream music. He gets his shots in, talks up independence and the importance of integrity in the music industry, but also seems overwhelmed by the attention, his thoughts and rhymes scattered as his name is called and he goes to accept the award. Curiously, no mention is made of the fact that he (not personally, obviously) robbed Kendrick Lamar in every single category, and that everyone knows very, very well why he won instead of Kendrick. Fame weighs on him just as much in “Need to Know,” where both he and guest Chance the Rapper wish they could return to the days of being underground saviors, far away from the fame and the weight of expectations. On The Heist, Macklemore anticipated and hoped for fame to reach him; on This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, he’s gotten his taste of it, and he’s not too much of a fan.

Introspection features in a different way on the first track premiered from This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, over six months before the album’s release, “Growing Up.” Initially released for free on Macklemore’s website, the song, previously subtitled “Sloane’s Song,” is an ode to Macklemore’s recently born daughter Sloane, giving her advice and reassurance that he’ll always be there for her, even if he’s halfway across the world on tour. With a simple beat and the high-soaring voice of Ed Sheeran, the song is a sweet, lovely tribute to fatherhood and the relationship between parent and child, and demonstrates that Macklemore has his priorities straight.

Addiction rears its head in two distinct ways – “Kevin” tells the story of a close friend lost to prescription drug abuse, featuring the gorgeous, full-throated croon of Leon Bridges, while “St. Ides” immediately after addresses Macklemore’s drinking problems, something that threatened to return as a result of the stress of touring behind The Heist. “St. Ides,” tellingly, is the only song without a guest on the album. The song features Macklemore, alone with his thoughts and his voice, without even a vocal chorus to anchor the song, choosing instead to fill the void with a quiet, twangy guitar riff. “Kevin,” though beautifully composed and arranged, suffers from a common theme with Macklemore, that of his ham-fisted addressing of issues that he’s passionate about. I think it’s less fair to criticize “Kevin” as opposed to “Same Love,” even though they suffer from the same deficiency, because Macklemore is much closer to the issues of drug addiction than he is to gay marriage. But he goes too hard, coming off as wholly anti-prescription entirely, which lacks a lot of the nuance that I would like to hear from Macklemore. It’s a matter of moderation and being properly diagnosed instead of any sense of being over-prescribed.

Of course, heavy themes of fame and addiction may anchor the album, but are spread out and alleviated by a fair share of lighthearted, satirical songs in the vein of megahit “Thrift Shop.” “Downtown” is the closest analogue to that song, released as a single six months before the album’s release, and satirizing obsession with fancy cars by replacing them with mopeds. The video in particular is a gem, as ridiculous as it may be. Other songs anchored in humor and brevity include “Dance-Off,” rather uncomfortably sexual and featuring a bizarre Idris Elba hook (yes, the actor), alongside what basically amounts to a cameo by an under-appreciated Anderson .Paak. “Let’s Eat” is a tribute to laziness and a love of food, which really resonates with me on a personal level. Because I’m unhealthy. “Brad Pitt’s Cousin” tackles fame in a far different way – embracing it, reveling in it. As Macklemore says, his cat’s more famous than I ever will be. I decided against hitting up the barber shop for the Macklemore haircut, though.

“Downtown” also plays into another theme, that of Macklemore’s love of classic hip-hop. The trio of Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Caz was bizarre but sincere, even as you hear them declaring their love for mopeds. “Buckshot” is a little more reverent, delving into graffiti tagging and bringing in DJ Premier to really drive the concept home. Macklemore has always been aware of his debt to classic hip-hop, particularly as he exists in an era that rewards him far more than his contemporaries. Every step Macklemore takes is in the shadow of the greats, and even though he may not have brought in his true favorites, he does his best to pay tribute.

Pre-release press, however, is dominated by the album’s closer, a song that overshadows nearly the entire back half of the album, from “Dance-Off” on. “White Privilege II” is a sequel to the song of the same name from The Language of My World, and incorporates eleven years of experience and nuance to create a fascinating sprawl of a song. Disjointed and stretched in several different directions, Macklemore delivers a biting indictment of white artists that co-opt hip-hop for their own gain with no regard for the traditions and history entrenched in the genre, making sure to frequently turn the lens on himself, the album’s theme of self-awareness coming to a head here. Macklemore alternates between shredding Iggy Azaela, and white fans who adore his “safe” brand of hip-hop, and looking at himself and his own work, trying his damnedest to figure out just how much he’s contributed to the problem.

This song made waves when it dropped a month before the album. Some appreciated the message, even as Macklemore brought his trademark flashes of tone-deafness to it, though it is far better at addressing a sensitive issue than, say, “Same Love” four years prior. Some found it to be too much of a mess to really make an impact. Some mocked Macklemore for even trying, which, I guess, is fine, even if it seems a little unfair. Pitchfork went so far as to accuse Macklemore of making black issues about him, which is psychotic and par for the course for Pitchfork. (Hilariously, they used Macklemore’s very own line about that exact thought – “isn’t this all about you, Mack?”, essentially – to declare that they were right on the money. Beautiful.) And there are a lot of ways to interpret the song and Macklemore’s intention behind it. But when it dropped, the video had no ads, was available to download for free, and was attached to a larger website designed to aid people in raising their own knowledge and awareness of black issues and the Black Lives Matter movement. Call it white savior complex, call it an empty gesture, call it corny and pandering. But this song wasn’t designed to be commercial, it wasn’t designed to be sold, it wasn’t designed to get Macklemore his points with the black community. Like most everything Macklemore does, it’s sincere in its clumsiness and ugliness, and the message behind it is powerful and on-point. And I truly do believe that, once Macklemore and & Ryan Lewis emerge for the promotional tsunami, “White Privilege II” and its central message will be one of their major focus points.

There are a few songs I didn’t touch on, but as a whole, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made feels less even and a little too front-loaded compared to The Heist. The back half of The Heist was held up by “Wing$,” “A Wake,” “Starting Over,” and bonus tracks “My Oh My” and “Victory Lap.” By contrast, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made takes a pretty big dip in quality after “Need to Know,” losing the thematic balance of the first half, right until the nine-minute opus of an album closer in “White Privilege II.” That’s not to speak of the abomination of a bonus track in “Spoons,” as well as whatever the other bonus track is (I haven’t received my deluxe copy yet). It’s a little unfortunate – I feel like “Kevin” could have easily been slotted in between “Bolo Tie” and “The Train” to shore up the back half, or “Let’s Eat” could have been moved forward to adjust the halves. The front half blows a lot of The Heist out of the water – the second half feels a lot like The VS, which isn’t necessarily a compliment. Taken as a whole, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made is a strong second act, avoiding the sophomore slump that artists can fall into, without quite soaring back to the heights of The Heist.

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nostalgia,ULTRA., by Frank Ocean

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Released February 16, 2011

42 min, 6 sec

Frank Ocean has made himself infuriatingly elusive since dropping channel ORANGE, one of the best albums of the year, in 2012. He’s surfaced for minor features – on Kanye West’s “New Slaves,” Jay-Z’s “Oceans,” Earl Sweatshirt’s “Sunday,” several Tyler, the Creator tracks, Beyoncé’s “Superpower,” and West’s “Wolves” – and he’s released one or two tracks of his own, in “Hero” for Converse, Django Unchained soundtrack b-side “Wise Man,” and two preview tracks from an alleged new album, but his public appearances have been incredibly few and far between, especially since his gorgeous Grammys 2013 performance (where he was fucking shafted, I might remind you), and any hints of a new album are even less frequent. Just as suddenly as he burst onto the scene with nostalgia,ULTRA. five years ago this month, Ocean seems to have become content with sitting on the sidelines, chipping away at an album at least three years in the making. And he’s already missed a release date.

Ocean’s random cameos in the music of his friends and the Circle of Jay spurred me to put both channel ORANGE and nostalgia,ULTRA. on repeat for the past two weeks or so. nostalgia was released for free on February 16, 2011, the product of frustration and neglect on the part of Ocean’s record label. Def Jam signed him after he made waves in the industry for the songs he wrote for artists as varied as Justin Bieber, John Legend, and Rihanna, moving to California in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to make a career out of his love of music and songwriting talent. Def Jam signed him for his potential and promptly let him sit and rot on the shelf. No advance for a record, no promotion, no singles, no nothing. Def Jam signed him like he was a trophy, an indicator that they could grab up hot names before they could become hot. Ocean eventually grew tired of it, gravitating to the young, quickly-developing Odd Future collective, lending his vocals to songs on nearly every Odd Future-associated album released ever since. By definition, he was an outsider, but he was accepted into the fold just like any of the group’s other members, despite being far older than any of them. But he kept his eyes on the bigger prize – his own album.

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Ocean grabbed beats from friends, and looked all over the Internet for interesting songs to rework for himself, unable to generate his own backing tracks at the time. nostalgia came together quickly, fueled by Ocean’s desire to do what he wanted to do, meet the goals he’d set when he’d moved out to the west coast five years prior. February 16 came, and Ocean posted an album cover to his Tumblr with no warning, and only a humorous exchange for context. The link leads to a now-dead Mediafire download of the album, for free, with no backing from Def Jam, and likely without a single person at the label knowing about a single second of it before its release.

nostalgia is the sound of Ocean breaking free from the constraints he’d worked under as a writer-for-hire, building a dark, relatively sparse album with a central theme of struggling with love. Some songs, like “Novacane” and “LoveCrimes,” are built to be pessimistic, demonstrating Ocean’s distrust of love and its sources (“Novacane” is also a thinly-veiled shot at the type of music that Ocean used to write for other artists). Others, like Ocean’s re-imagined version of “Strawberry Swing,” portray a purer love, even in the face of an apocalyptic end. “Songs 4 Women” demonstrates more of the shallowness and skepticism that Ocean treats the subject with on nostalgia, which comes to a head on the album’s thematic centerpiece, “American Wedding.”

A re-working of the classic Eagles hit “Hotel California,” using that song’s instrumental and distinctive guitar solo as a basis, Ocean laments a shotgun wedding and the false love the comes with it, telling the tale of a couple that got hitched too fast, as the relationship is torn to shreds, leaving Ocean with nothing but a broken heart and broken promises. It’s an interesting track to hold off on until the end of the album, particularly after “Swim Good,” another pure highlight, which details killing a loved one and dumping them off after they’ve broken your heart. Coupled with “Strawberry Swing” at the beginning of the album, the listener gets a sense of coming full-circle, viewing a relationship from both ends of the spectrum, on two tracks Ocean re-appropriated for his own use. And, naturally, they both end in tragedy.

The album is tied together with a series of interludes that are based around switching out cassette tapes, interspersed with video game sound effects and titled appropriately. These serve as palate cleansers, to prepare the listener for the next shift in tone, and they would recur on Ocean’s next project, channel ORANGE, forming the backbone of that album as well.

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Despite its low-key, self-made release, nostalgia immediately made waves in the R&B and hip-hop industries. Ocean was lauded as a genius and innovative songwriter with a gorgeous voice, and a number of major industry names wondered where the fuck he’d come from. Why hadn’t this guy been lighting up the charts? Wait, was he the guy that wrote “Bigger” for Bieber? What the fuck?

Def Jam was blindsided, naturally. Some of the execs didn’t even know that Ocean was the artist they had under contract – he’d written as Lonny Breaux before branching out for himself, and that was the professional name they’d known him by. Ocean took to Twitter to lambast the label for not giving him a chance and leaving him to fend for himself, exclaiming that he’d done everything for nostalgia himself, and that those stupid fucks at Def Jam had no fucking clue what they were doing. He absolutely ethered them in public as nostalgia continued to build and build in notoriety. Beyoncé came calling later that week. And Don Henley accused Ocean of stealing his music, because that makes sense when you put a mixtape on Mediafire for free. He even threatened to sue Ocean if he dared to play his own fucking song live. Despite people fellating the Eagles for decades and decades without Henley shitting his diaper about it. Maybe it was the “bastardization.” Maybe it was the subject matter. Maybe it was Ocean’s complexion.

Who knows. But all this attention mean something very, very important for Ocean – he’d hit gold. He’d done exactly what he’d set out to do in 2005. He’d made it.

The big time.

The big time also meant that Def Jam had finally taken notice, thanks in no small part to a change in management. New label head Barry Weiss made meeting with Ocean and understanding what he wanted one of his top priorities when he took over the company, and Ocean and his management team made it very, very clear what he wanted – fucking money. Money to make a record. Lots of it.

Def Jam dropped a $1 million dollar check in his lap.

They also attempted to commercialize nostalgia, with a seven-track EP titled nostalgia LITE, featuring the most accessible cuts from the mixtape, as well as two songs Ocean had recorded in the meantime in “Whip Appeal” and “Acura Integurl.” (“American Wedding,” Ocean joked, would probably not make the cut, so as not to invoke the wrath of Mr. Henley, though “Strawberry Swing” might have made it.) “Novacane” and “Swim Good” saw releases as singles with accompanying videos before work stalled out on the EP. Ocean confirmed the cancellation of the project with a few notes on Tumblr and an unofficial release of “Whip Appeal.” Instead, he moved back to channel ORANGE. Time to get to work.

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And, of course, he did – we covered that a while ago – and channel ORANGE was even more acclaimed than nostalgia, though it fell victim to the usual snubbing of non-white artists at the Grammys, quarantined in the “Urban Contemporary” category and being snubbed in Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Ocean himself for Best New Artist. Nothing new for the Recording Academy.

But Ocean likely would never have made it there if he hadn’t taken a chance on himself, fed up with being ignored and unappreciated. Who knows if Def Jam would have ever looked at its contracts and realized that they had an artist for an entire generation on their books – and no, I don’t mean Jay-Z or Kanye. Trust me, they know about those guys. But nostalgia put Ocean on the map, and it forced the world to take notice. Anyone who somehow overlooked him even after nostalgia was surely brought in by channel ORANGE. Frank Ocean had arrived.

And now, five years after the fact, we’re no closer to album three. Ocean’s Tumblr blogging slowed down significantly after the release of channel ORANGE – he’d previously posted a few b-sides in between nostalgia and channel ORANGE to keep fans engaged, but he separated further and further from his online presence as his fame grew. Ocean posted a cryptic Tumblr post early last year, featuring him looking over a set of magazines titled “Boys Don’t Cry,” and implying that an album of the same name would be dropping in July 2015. July came and went, and Ocean fell silent. No mention of any music has come since then. The waiting continues.

There’s no way to know how long we’ll be waiting for Ocean to release another classic. It could be this year – hell, it could be this week, after this post goes live. It could be next year, three years, never. Ocean plays it close to the vest – we know only what he wants us to know. Hopefully, he’ll feel generous again soon.

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