On Monday August 1, Frank Ocean captivated the Internet by live streaming what appeared to be an unlikely home improvement project: the audience could see a spacious warehouse equipped with everything you'd need to build furniture and music (tools and speakers) on his website. Ocean appeared and began sawing wood and drilling holes. Around 1pm, he left. It's this same warehouse that we see in Ocean's Endless, in which, over the course of 45 minutes, he proceeds to build a spiral staircase. But what does Frank Ocean's Endless film mean? I'd argue it has everything to do with the scheduling of his records and his work ethic.
When Ocean posted an image of a library card for an overdue book on his website in July, the implication was clear: the long-awaited, much hyped follow up album to channel Orange, Boys Don't Cry's release has been postponed a few hundred times or so. It suggested he was aware that anticipation had built to fever pitch and that he was working on it. It's worth, at this point, clarifying: Endless is a new Ocean album but it's not the Ocean album. According to Rolling Stone, Apple have confirmed that Boys Don't Cry (which now has a different name) will be dropping this weekend instead.
There are a few key details about the video that are worth mentioning. One is its sleek, black, and white aesthetic which brings to mind the high production values of something like Beyonce's Lemonade. Another is the fact that there's not one, but multiple, Frank Oceans in the video. And the third is this DIY aspect: the Ocean(s) are constantly sawing, fixing, building a spiral staircase, though at a leisurely pace, with time for checking phones incorporated into the building schedule. I'd argue the video is a commentary on the fact that Ocean hasn't been slacking for four years, but working and hard, something the title also indicates: maybe he has an endless work schedule.
The proof's in Ocean's sheer number of collaborations since his previous album dropped. Since the beginning of 2013, he's worked with John Mayer; Beyonce Knowles; Tyler, The Creator; Jay Z; Earl Sweatshirt; Laetitia Sadler; Diplo; James Blake. Sometimes it feels like Frank Ocean is that bright kid in class who keeps forgetting to do his own work because he's too busy helping his classmates. The problem has never been that Ocean was work-shy. This is something reinforced by the video, in which you're struck by his steady, constant sawing, and fixing. He's unhurried: working at his own pace in DIY, as with music. Nobody's going to rush Ocean into a new album. In a strange way, the album is reassuring: he seems uniquely competent and detail-focused, which are two qualities you could probably attribute to his music, too.
But what do the Ocean clones signify? Perhaps the sheer multiplicity of his musical projects. After all, many a moon ago on Tumblr, he clarified that he wasn't planning one, but "twooo versions." If this is still the case — as the Rolling Stones argument that the second album is dropping this album implies — then this would be a good argument that the multiple Frank Oceans represent his diverse musical interests. Endless was notable for how much more experimental it seems in comparison to channel Orange and for its absence of the big-name collaborators Ocean has helped out over the past few years (Jay Z, Beyonce, Kanye etc). These two things, to me, suggest that the Boys Don't Cry album (under the different name) will be far more melodic and conventional than Endless.
So no, I doubt this is just a cynical attempt to create mystery, as has been suggested as one possible interpretation. It's not just visually striking video art, but more personal than it first seems, telling us a lot about where Frank Ocean's at these days.
Images: Apple Music