It’s still beyond comprehension as to why Frank Ocean continues to mask his electrifying vocals with semblances of auto-tune. His new single(s) Lens (he’s got two versions) debuted last month on Ocean’s blonded RADIO show for Beats 1, leaning more towards the Blonde end of the Frank Ocean spectrum of sound than his debut Channel Orange.
Is it that he’s focusing more on production techniques than vocal prowess? Likely. Blonde certainly wasn’t a testament to his powerful voice, although it did showcase the more experimental side of the elusive artist, whose highly anticipated sophomore album (or was it technically his third) hiccuped its way into the minds and hearts of eager fans last year after massive delays and cheeky diversions.
Lens, despite not showcasing the full capabilities and vocal range that Frank’s got to offer, still manages to put his voice front and centre among sparse instrumentals. Keyboards accentuate Ocean’s long, drawn out syllables, slowly adding more depth with airy, reverb-like punctuations before finally adding heavier beats in a makeshift climax, only to drop quickly before tapping out. The emotion weights heavily in Ocean’s vocals throughout, mingling between short, quick punches, and long, drawn out delivery.
Version two is more of an ‘extended version’ than a distinctly separate track. Not until the three and half minute mark does it segue into part deux, with a piano replaying the intro in what sounds like a huge space, giving it a much more raw and grandiose feel. The intro fades out, immediately replaced by a pulsing beat before launching into guest star Travis Scott’s verse. The beat quickens pace, reminiscent of a drumline, while Scott’s vocals slowly descend from reverb into autotune as the verse progresses, ending the song on a slowly fading beat.
While the end of version two clearly showcases a more upbeat production, both versions of Ocean’s Lens add another interesting chapter to Frank Ocean’s ever evolving sound. With experimental techniques weighing heavily in Ocean’s music, he’s set to continue down a less prescribed musical path than the execs initially intended.
You can hear the original version of Lens (until min 3.35) and the Travis Scott version (after the 3.35 mark) below.