Music fears being confined into a space. To be labeled or categorized, is suffocating. That’s what makes Endless feel so liberating and soothing, even as it often traverses challenging—and seemingly disconnected—topics of war, technology, love, and so on. Its ephemeral nature melts each track into a singular experience as R&B dips into soft rock and electronic; sequences are tied together with ambience, starts and ends are elusive. Even the unconventional release, a methodic, surprise rollout via video of Frank Ocean constructing a staircase, points at a desire to live outside the lines of standard, packaged albums or directed videos—in the process, creating something structured, spontaneously.
As the title asserts, there is a cyclical constant at work—with the spiral staircase as a physical manifestation. Endless’ many ideas, some of which only last a minute or so, are not so much bookended by a beginning and end, but rather, through here’s and there’s. Ideas are never fully fleshed out or explored, rather they come as invitations to explore the connections that lie in-between. So instead of fixating on the object of affection, perhaps the more interesting focal point is the act of loving.
Of course, there’s a tension in drawing attention to the fluid essence of these moments and feelings when the vessel to convey these thoughts are done through an author and their perspective and feelings, as it is through Frank Ocean here. Does music make these ideas concrete by framing it and providing a voice, or perhaps it’s merely the best we have when it comes to conveying these ephemeral concepts? (In describing the feeling of love, does it solidify and become the thing of love?)
With Endless, Frank Ocean contemplates his presence on his own album, and grapples with this implication of capturing the process. He relinquishes the spotlight, as with “Alabama,” where Ocean’s endless “What can I do?”’s harmonize before being overtaken by Sampha’s vocals. Or with “In Here Somewhere” and “Florida”, where shades of James Blake can be heard and many of the instrumentals and transitions dispersed throughout play with Ocean’s vocals. Sometimes he comes in the form of distant, faraway voices, other times he’s heavily modulated—more machine than man. He acts as a conduit. The most “complete” thought in the album is “At Your Best”, and it’s a cover of Aaliyah’s song of the same name (which in turn is a cover of The Isley Brothers song—also of the same name). Many other tracks echo this distance between listener and Frank Ocean, whether it’s Jazmine Sullivan’s voice coming in or instrumentals that mimic human voices.
A collective experience where an ocean of voices can exist is created, where the stories feel universal and the sound is transcendental. It allows Endless to express love, pain, any of its many feelings, in its purest form—best captured in the one-two punch of “Rushes” and “Rushes To”. A state where feelings feel foreign, yet familiar, and the experiences are new, but instinctual. You can blur the border between still and motion pictures, a memory from a moment, and Frank Ocean proves, so too with music.