Remembering The Time Frank Ocean Made Us Watch Him Do Woodwork For Two Weeks

Written By Sam Murphy on 08/02/2017

We should really hate Frank Ocean for what he did to us last year.

More than a year after he announced the release date of his album to be July 2015 (I got twooooo versions, remember), I’d all but given up waiting for the follow-up to Frank’s exquisite Channel ORANGE. Or at least, I thought I had. Every time it seemed I’d given up hope, I’d get invested in a Twitter rumour, stay up until the early hours of the morning or spend a lunch on my phone constantly refreshing #FrankOcean, waiting for something to happen.

Then, on 1st August 2016, a year ago – something did happen. A black and white live stream was switched on via Apple Music. It showed Frank in a room woodworking. Painfully boring but beautifully shot it held onto your attention through pure trickery. He moved slowly, building, with occasional music playing in the background but never enough to form a full song, or even a snippet of one. Every time I went to switch it off, a sound would play and I’d be sucked right back in, thinking he’d drop the album at any second.

The press reported that the album would finally be released on 5th August 2016. We assumed that the stream would continue for five days and eventually lead to the album release but we were totally in the dark, clinging on to any clues that we could find in the video. There weren’t many. Conversation online turned quickly to what Frank was building. Was it a staircase? Was it speakers to play the album on? Was it nothing? Was this whole thing just a plot to confuse us all? Am I going insane? Why can’t I turn this off?

I didn’t have to turn it off. Frank turned it off for us. On the eve of the expected release date, the stream went black. The 5th August came and went and there was no album. It seemed that once again we’d been led towards something that wasn’t going to happen.

Two weeks went by with no word of what was going on. We were left clinging on to the ambient sounds that had played on the initial stream that gave little to no hint of the direction the record. Still, the sounds were comforting, a reminder that Frank had returned and left us with something even if it was minimal.

On 18th August 2016, Frank returned again on the live stream. And this time he meant business. He was back with power tools (the line at Bunnings must have been long) and was ready to finish what he was building. This time around there were more sounds too. Fuller sounds. More complete ideas with Frank’s voice. It felt like this time he wasn’t going to leave us in the lurch and finally, he had the same intentions that we thought he had. The echoing, reverb-soaked sounds were certainly not full songs but they were enough to erupt the internet in the same way you’d imagine it would if the second coming of the messiah happened.

I still remember the feeling when the first song started playing out of the speakers. I was sending frantic texts and formulating articles as Frank serenaded with a cover of Aaliyah’s At Your Best (You Are Love). It felt hollow but also comforting, much like the entirety of Endless. All the false alarms had amounted to this and the internet had gathered together to witness. Twitter’s gif game was strong and I was tightly bonding with people from some of the most far away places on the globe because, Frank dropped the album (or was in the process of doing so, so we thought).

Endless was strange. Beautiful, but strange. Most songs were under a minute long and it was more like sketches than a full album. Comme Des Garçons‘ brilliant beat was immediately whipped away from us and transformed into a howling, ambient synth of Honeybaby. In Here Somewhere‘s triumphant start detoured into experimental territory and Rushes was beautiful but, like much of Endless, it felt far away. It ended on Wolfgang Tillman’s Device Control and confirmed what we already kind of knew, we had no idea where Frank was going with all of this.

As satisfying as it was to hear Frank again, there was this communal feeling that if Endless was the album we’d waited years for then it wasn’t enough. We’d watched and waited on this stream for nearly three weeks and what he’d essentially offered up was an insight into his drafts folder on his computer. Thankfully, once again Frank agreed with us and he had Blonde up his sleeve ready to drop two days later.

Watching Endless back a year later is a strangely nostalgic thing. I remember the excitement that came with every echoing sound. That feeing of hope and strange desperation. For the first time in my life I’d become a hopeless, hardcore fanboy because Frank had so expertly and silently swelled hype to the point where I wasn’t even sure whether I still liked Frank but I was going to be here when it happened. Listening to Endless now without the weight of anticipation gives me goosebumps. It’s the prelude to Blonde but it’s also stands confidently as its own work.

Maybe Blonde wouldn’t have been so easy to swallow without its companion. Endless was a taste into the minimal, acoustic musings that were developed more wholeheartedly on the album that followed. Frank ends Endless on the lyric, “I love the way you make me feel,” and the visual album is all about feeling. It’s so warm and genuine. Even without the excitement of anticipation, there’s a certain stirring, fuzzy feeling that settles in the stomach and it makes me immediately forgive him again for the two weeks he made us watch him woodwork.

Even though I can’t even remember what he built anymore.