Surrealism in Music
The Power of Dreams
There is a power to dreams, on an evolutionary level I am sure, but that is not the type of power I mean. I am arguing, for this article, for dreams as a tool for communication. Surrealists (including my personal favorite painter and mustache of all time- Salvador Dali- fight me Nietzche) base their art on this idea. However, a question that has for a long time plucked against my mind is how to use the power of dreams in music. The universe conveniently handed me an answer to that question in the form of Frank Ocean’s 2016 album- Blonde.
“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be the shackles limiting our vision.” Salvador Dali.
Frank Ocean notoriously disappeared almost without a trace for four years before releasing Blonde. A sentiment I have seen expressed by various people is that the album is overrated and not worth the time it took to release it. With this article I respectfully disagree, because this is not an album with time wasted on it. Frank Ocean with this album creates an environment to explore the concept of maturity- he had to actually mature, to do this.
On an instrumental level, this album is minimalism at its finest. With tight but spacey production from the likes of James Blake, Tyler the creator, and Pharrell garnished intricately throughout the album. Reason being the captivating but ultimately dreamlike state Frank wanted to create on it.
The album opens with Franks high pitched vocal delivery cutting through, almost to emulate some type of character from a warped, alternate version of Alice in Wonderland. He uses voice modulation all through the album to showcase different fragments of himself in the vein of Bon Iver (P.S type in the comments if you would like to see an article on Bon Iver- I want an excuse to write an article on Bon Iver). This album is about the exploration of identity and the pain that comes with that, and to communicate this Frank uses his voice as an effective, emotional and yet laid-back tool to devastating effect.
Psychoanalysis Is not Always Pretty
The Subconscious Is the Truest Version of the Self
Psychoanalysis is a school of thought in psychology started (or at least popularized) by Sigmund Freud on the basis that the subconscious is the truest version of one’s self. This album is, to say the least, psychoanalytical in nature- even down to the religious symbolism and the drug use- which leads me to the penultimate point of this article: Blonde is essentially Frank Ocean psycho-analyzing himself to understand the ever-elusive concept of maturity.
“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.” Frida Kahlo
Like all psychoanalysis the pictures painted in this album are not always pretty. Frank comes across as aggressive, lonely and even arrogant in some instances- but always vulnerable. The reason for all the aesthetic choices made in this album from the voice modulation to the production to the singing is that the artist hand crafted a space for comfortable vulnerability; and where is it more comfortable than a living, breathing, sonic dream- the subconscious is the truest version of one’s self.
This is honestly one of my favourite albums of all time, only because listening to it feels like a meditative lucid dream. Perhaps I am a little biased though. I know, for example, that black culture has the tendency to look down on vulnerability especially towards masculinity and sexuality. So as a person that actively tries (and admittedly often fails) to transcend that, this album resonates with me on a level deeper than most. The ultimate point of this album and consequently this article is to be a small, probably happy reminder, that being vulnerable is being mature. This album is beautiful- sweet dreams.
© 2017 Iyunoluwanimi Yemi-Shodimu
descrownes from New World on August 17, 2017:
This is one of the best intertextual short essays I have read in a while. I think you should develop it into a longer essay and publish it more widely. The literary world needs this new voice. Send it to http://postcolonial.org/index.php/pct
Yemi Shodimu on August 15, 2017:
Deep. Very deep and well articulated. You've got it in you young man. Remain blessed.
Gbolahan on August 15, 2017:
Keep on the good work