Thursday night, singer Frank Ocean released a long-awaited new work: Endless, available exclusively — at least for now — as a 45-minute film on Apple Music.
This is Ocean's first studio project since his Channel Orange was released in 2012, the musician's breakout year as a solo artist after his days as a member of the Odd Future collective and, prior to that, as a songwriter for artists like Justin Bieber, John Legend and Brandy.
Ocean himself has been feeding into the sentiment that his new project, thought to be titled Boys Don't Cry, released instead as Endless, has been all too long in coming — and his team has been slyly building up anticipation for it, beginning with the image that greets visitors to the home page of the album's website. It's of an old-fashioned library card, with "July 02 2015" scratched out and followed by a string of now-passed dates (save one). For the past week and change, the site has also carried an odd video of, for the most part, nothing remarkable — benches in a what look like a glaringly lit warehouse with an occasional appearance by Ocean, who seemed to be cutting or painting wood, and brief stretches of ambient or looped music. All of it fueled the flames of Frank Ocean fans' ardor.
According to a report published at the beginning of August in the New York Times, this launch is being accompanied by some kind of print publication, which will be available in Apple's retail locations — making for a multi-platform, multi-media release entirely exclusive to Apple's distribution chain.
Ocean's deal with Apple appears to be the latest volley in the competition between subscription streaming services to stake claims to early-distribution deals with certain high-profile artists, as Beyonce, Kanye West and Rihanna did with their most recent albums (Lemonade, which aired on HBO as well, The Life of Pablo and Anti, respectively) on the platform of which they are all co-owners: Tidal.
These days, considering the constant and direct communication that many artists have with their fans on various social media channels, a four-year gap between releases seems like almost a generational divide (though, for comparison's sake, five years went by between the release of Radiohead's 2011 album The King of Limbs and the group's A Moon Shaped Pool earlier this year). Frank Ocean's preferred platform has been Tumblr; it's where he has written, searchingly, about his sexuality and, more recently, a meditation about the treatment of LGBT people in the U.S. and across the globe in this visibly violent year.