Before last year’s masterpiece Blonde dropped, it seemed like Frank Ocean hadn’t released any material in decades. Part of that came from the inevitable feeling of anticipation after the artist released one of the greatest albums of the decade so far in Channel Orange. Part of that came from the drastic changes in music occurring between the two releases. But ever since Blonde and its companion album Endless dropped, we’ve been spoiled with new Ocean songs. He’s appeared on Calvin Harris’s “song of the summer”-destined “Slide” and released “Chanel” and “Biking,” the former a slow-burner featuring Ocean’s unparalleled lyrical flow and the latter perfect to soundtrack a sunset workout at Venice Beach. Before I had time to give “Biking” its share of attention, though, Ocean decided to drop “Lens” on his blonded RADIO show last weekend.
“Lens” is different from those two previous tracks in a few ways. While “Chanel” and Biking” feel like standalone pieces of music Ocean wrote without thinking of including them on an album, “Lens” feels like it could slide right onto Blonde without a problem. Its defining feature is its sharp focus on Ocean’s moody voice. The introspective lyrics only add comparisons between “Lens” and the tracks on his latest album. Ocean sings “I know I got some sins on me right now” before repeating “on me” as his voice weaves in and out of the slowcore synth riff. I also can’t help but think this song was more heavily influenced by Ocean’s collaboration with Kanye West, both on Blonde and The Life of Pablo, than “Chanel and “Biking.” Maybe it’s just the auto-tuned voice, but “Lens” might be Ocean’s interpretation of what West was attempting on tracks like “FML” and “Real Friends.” Both artists reflect on personal relationships and how popularity has distorted them. Even the title to the track eludes to the voyeuristic nature of fame and its undoubted affect on Ocean as a person, especially when he croons about all the different people who “got a lens on [him] right now.”
All of this adds up another masterful, atmospheric song from Ocean. Besides maybe Kendrick Lamar, I can’t think of another pop artist more influential to music working in their prime right now than Ocean. Regardless of whether or not “Lens,” or even “Chanel” or Biking” end up on his Blonde follow-up, the anticipation leading up to that album will be immense. For now though, I’ll enjoy these one-off offerings from one of the most creative auteurs in music right now.