The enigmatic artist returns with a set of acoustic ballads and remixed club bangers.
In a world filled with constant awareness and activity, Frank Ocean still remains shrouded in mystery. Ever since achieving critical and mainstream success with Channel Orange, he plays on his own terms, releasing music whenever he feels like it. A four year wait gave us Endless and Blonde, two albums that traded his debut’s elegance and grandiosity for simplicity and minimalism.
After a short stint of singles and features in 2017, Frank retreated to privacy once again, leaving fans anxiously waiting for whatever was next.
It wasn’t until the end of 2019 when Frank reemerged into the public eye. In October, he hosted two club nights (dubbed ‘PrEP+’) in New York City, where globally celebrated underground DJs played music ranging from techno, house and garage.
Interestingly, also being played were club remixes of new, unreleased Frank Ocean songs. These songs were shortly available for purchase days after the PrEP+ nights as 7-inch vinyls. The tracks were called Cayendo and Dear April, and both vinyls had two versions of each song: an acoustic and a remix.
It was clear that Frank was steering into a new direction, going down an avenue of club anthems and woozy mumble rap (DHL and In My Room). He’s trying to capture the sounds and emotions of the night, both in crowded spaces and confined isolation. Now that Cayendo and Dear April are officially out for people to listen to, what is there to say about them?
The acoustic version of Cayendo is slow and barebones, featuring only Frank’s vocals and guitars. The song is dreamy, soothing and filled with intimacy. Light guitar strumming echoes in the background, leaving Frank’s reverbed voice in focus. Compared to DHL and In My Room’s comatose vocal delivery, Frank's singing sounds as vulnerable and passionate as ever. He even reaches his upper register during the second chorus, giving us this stunning ‘wow’ moment as he delivers his vocals with expression and range. The mix of the song sounds really intimate with lots of reverb and vocal stacking throughout the track. To me, it feels like we’re sitting opposite Frank in a tight room, listening to him confess his longing for the past and affection for a partner long gone: “I still really, really love you / Yes I do”.
The remixed version of Cayendo (produced by Sango) is much more uptempo and bouncy. Sango’s signature rattling percussion, and fast rhythmic drum patterns give the song movement and swing that was absent from the acoustic version. A mellow synth chord progression rings throughout the song while chopped and pitch-shifted Frank vocals echo making the track unmistakably catchy. Along with the rumbling 808s, it’s clear that this remix was made for the club. It’s a club banger that is bound to make you dance and groove.
The acoustic version of Dear April has more depth than Cayendo both instrumentally and lyrically. Not only are there just guitars in the mix, but also some electric piano embellishments and organs that give the song some ambience and swell. Generally, the mix of the song is heavier sounding and more polished, but Frank’s vocal performance is even more grounded and emotive, with layered vocals only emphasising his heartbreak. Around the 2:20 mark, heavier bass enters the track, leading the instrumentation to build up and become more crowded. In tandem with the harmony of pitch-shifted Frank vocals, the song takes you on a calm, serene journey and ends with a melancholic and saddening conclusion.
To me, this song is a tribute to the past. There’s a longing for it as well as an acceptance that it will never come again. The only thing Frank can do now is wish his ex-partner the very best: “you will make something new / and it’ll take you through this”. On paper, Dear April’s subject matter is depressing, yet there’s an aura of warmth in that is deeply comforting. It’s a track that I’ve had on repeat ever since its release. As an artist who established themselves as a creator through feeling first, it’s no surprise that this song makes me feel this way, even if I don’t really know the specifics of why.
The Justice remix of Dear April is a slow build to what I can best describe as a funky, electro, house track fit for clubs and radio play. The beginning contains gloomy electric piano chords, bass, and hits of choir sounds and overblown, distorted synths. There are lots of weird effects on the track such as flangers, static and noise; all staples of electronic music.
The 1:38 mark is when the track becomes a house record. A steady kick drum keeps the rhythm up while the distorted synth hits become the melody of the track. Even though it’s an electronic song, the way the instrumental moves with Frank’s voice gives this track an organic ebb and flow. Justice have done a great job remixing this record, creating a song that will literally make people cry in the club.
Overall, Frank Ocean has come through with two acoustic ballads and two electronic club bangers; the former brimming with emotion and heart while the latter bursts with dance, groove and colour. Given the context, it’s clear to see why Frank released these songs as vinyls. Wearing its intentions proud on its sleeve, it’s only a matter of time before we see these fun remixes spun at underground clubs across the world.
As to why he released ‘acoustic’ versions of Dear April and Cayendo, we will never really know. What I do know is that these tracks were crafted with heart and care, giving it its strong sense of intimacy and personal weight. I’m sure that these tracks will give people peace of mind and comfort, just as Frank himself would have felt when writing and constructing these songs. If there are any songs that you should be listening to in isolation right now, it’s these two.
You can listen to the acoustic tracks of Cayendo and Dear April here: