On February 19th, 2013, Frank Ocean announced plans for a second studio album. Three years of false starts, release date pushbacks, and cryptic teasers left fans of the R&B singer’s heart-wrenching falsetto in mass desperation. Some went as far as to create an app, (650)82OCEAN, which would send a text alert at the first signs of an album drop. But last Thursday night, those texts flew out to fans’ phones in a flourish as Ocean’s 45-minute “visual album,” Endless, went viral across the internet. Ocean’s long-awaited LP, Blonde, subsequently dropped on Saturday morning.
In the midst of the ensuing Tweetstorm and anxious to see whether all the hype was warranted, I logged into Apple Music, where Endless is exclusively streamed. Fresh off the VMAs, which introduced its first-ever long-form video award, I thought I’d be greeted with something combining the production value of David LaChapelle’s 15-video masterpiece for Elton John with the shock value of Kanye West’s post-coital orgy for Famous. Ocean kept us waiting for four years, after all. But what I found left me speechless for other reasons entirely.
The 18-track record, taking the form of a black-and-white short film, is as much video art as it is a music video. It carries forward the torch of long-form art, music video, and experimental cinema hybrids of recent years (Beyoncé’s 12-video opus Lemonade, which follows Bey on a nearly 46-minute self-journey, among them). Shot by Francisco Soriano, Endless opens to Ocean plopping down on a workbench and slipping off his gloves, where he’s joined by clones of himself who also roll up their sleeves and get to work building a spiral staircase by hand in an otherwise empty warehouse.
He drills holes, hammers, saws wood, and sweeps as photographer and (unbeknownst to many in the art world) remarkably good electronic musician
DJs, while Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood croons in the background. But that’s about it. The video continues in this way for much of the 45 minutes, save for a costume change into a hazmat suit or the moment when Ocean ascends the newly built steps. It chronicles a tremendous amount of physical work, but it’s entirely anticlimactic. At first watch, it disappoints.
I didn’t get the brilliance of Endless
until reading artist ’s
backstory to the 140 hours (roughly six days) of footage on which he collaborated with Ocean. (You can spot Sachs’s giant boombox, recently on view in his Brooklyn Museum
retrospective, in a far corner of the warehouse.) “It’s a testament to the reality that things made by hand take time,” Sachs told Pitchfork
is a meditation on the unglamorous hard work and dedication that goes into an artist’s practice. It serves to counter the expectation of a glossy, finished product among contemporary consumers—both of culture and more broadly.