Exclaim!'s Top 15 Soul and R&B Albums Best of 2016



3. Frank Ocean
Blonde
(Independent)
 
Frank Ocean's 2012 debut studio album, Channel Orange, established him as one of music's guiding lights, a sage, mysterious figure with a voice like butter and an ability to turn life experience into songs that simultaneously evoked sunny California and dark, nagging anxiety. How do you follow that?
 
For four long years, he didn't. Then, in August, he delivered the spread-out, languorous Endless, and a day later, Blonde, an album so stripped of the maximalist thump of Channel Orange that it was almost confounding. Blonde features no "Pyramids," no "Bad Religion"; it's an intimate, textured album devoid of showstoppers and awash in synth warble, reverb, vocal manipulations and ambiance. Ocean's in search of truth here; though it feels at times like he's trying, Kid A­-esque, to disappear, it's all in an attempt to accurately recreate the spotty nature of memory's narrative as he explores feelings from his childhood and relationships from his teens.
 
Looking for truth in music doesn't always bear fruit, but for four years, Ocean searched his soul long and hard — as a result, Blonde yields sweetness that surpasses even that of the peaches and mangos of days gone by.
Stephen Carlick