From James Blake to Jonny Greenwood, get to know the new and familiar faces who helped put together the R&B singer’s new visual album
“I got two versions. I got twooo versions…” While it wasn’t immediately obvious what Frank Ocean actually meant by this when he wrote it last July, today things have become significantly clearer with the release of new visual album Endless. As Rolling Stone report, Endless is not the new Frank Ocean album: instead, it’s a project that precedes Ocean’s second studio album proper. According to reports, that album could arrive as soon as this weekend – though let’s be real, does anyone trust those reports anymore?
For something that’s billed as a collection of offcuts, Endless is still strong package: its songs feature lavish orchestrations, it comes with a beautiful video installation, and it’s full of high profile collaborations (while avoiding any obvious names). Taking a glance through its credits reveals some interesting names: big-hitters like James Blake and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood contribute, but so do relatively unknown names like London bassist Ben Reed. It’s entirely feasible that some of these names will pop up again once the proper album (apparently no longer titled Boys Don’t Cry) lands shortly, but for the time being we’ve put together a who’s who guide to some of the names of Endless.
Endless opens with a wry, 23-seconds-long intro track called “Device Control”. The track is actually by photographer and musician Wolfgang Tillmans, appearing in edited form in the intro and in the full length outro “Higgs”. Some of the other musicians who play on the song have collaborated with Tillmans before, including keyboardist Kyle Combs (of Brooklyn band Luscious Skin) and drummer Rosie Slater (of New Myths).
One of the most fleshed out songs on Endless is a gorgeous cover of “At Your Best (You Are Love)”, originally by the Isley Brothers but notably covered by Aaliyah. The track represents one side of Endless in that it features almost entirely A-list names. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood has carved out a successful second career for himself as a composer, and here the London Contemporary Orchestra perform his captivating string arrangements, recorded at London’s Abbey Road Studios.
Om’mas Keith is no stranger to Frank Ocean’s world: he won a GRAMMY for his work on channel ORANGE back in 2012. The producer, drummer, and multi-instrumentalist has had a storied career that’s traversed the mainstream (via work with artists like Jay Z and Erykah Badu) and the underground (Mark Pritchard and Four Tet), with his best known work being as one third of cosmic hip hop group Sa-Ra Creative Partners. He plays piano on Endless’s “At Your Best (You Are Love)”.
Rounding out the all-star cast on “At Your Best (You Are Love)” is Ocean’s good mate James Blake, who provides the song’s synths. When Blake released his recent album The Colour In Anything he explained that his track “Always” was built around an interpolation of an unreleased Ocean song called “Godspeed” – that track doesn’t appear on Endless, but it may yet turn up on Ocean’s new album proper.
If you found it tough waiting four years for new Frank Ocean material, have some sympathy for Sampha fans: we’ve been waiting for his debut album for almost seven years now (it is, mercifully, due later this year). His presence on Endless doesn’t feel too out of the blue by this point, having already collaborated with A-list names like Drake and Kanye West, but he still brings a warm rush when his vocals appear “Alabama”.
R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan sings on four of Endless's tracks – “Alabama”, “Wither”, “Hublots”, and “Rushes”. Sullivan has been releasing records since 2009 and has received a lot of critical praise and modest commercial success, but she’s never crossed over between genres and subcultures in the way that Ocean has.
London-based Venezuelan producer Arca makes a brief appearance on Endless, working behind the boards on the hazy “Mine”. The former Dazed cover star creates abstract but utterly unique tracks on his own, but when he works with other artists and vocalists (like Kanye West, FKA twigs, Björk) he’s always found a centre ground between his experimental inclinations and their more pop sensibilities.
French pianist and film score composer Chassol has said that it was Diplo who introduced Frank Ocean to his music, having heard the speech harmonisation on his album Indiamore. He appears on “U-N-I-T-Y”, but could end up on Ocean’s album. “I did a lot of things (with Frank): synthesisers, string arrangements, voices, bass,” Chassol told Red Bull, “We spent time at nights working, playing, drumming, discussing. We talked about music, art, nations, culture, blackness, so many things.”
West Coast producer Buddy Ross plays synths across Endless, which isn’t a major surprise when you look at his Twitter biography, which describes him as Frank Ocean’s keyboardist. His Tumblr shows off his vast synthesizer collection, and also reveals that he had a hand in writing 2014 loosie “Memrise”.
Austin, Texas-based producer TROY NoKA (real name Antwoine Collins) is an old friend of Ocean’s, producing “Lovecrimes” from his debut mixtape nostalgia, ULTRA under the name T-Wiz. He’s since put out a run of solo tapes of his own, but on Endless he takes on a significant co-production role.
Two surprising names that appear across Endless are Joe Thornalley and Ben Reed. Why surprising? Well, it’s because they’re both UK-based, and both barely known outside of London’s small underground music community. Thornalley produces leftfield electronic and club music under the name Vegyn and runs the PLZ Make It Ruins record label. It’s entirely possible that the Ocean connection came via James Blake, who has spun Vegyn’s tracks on his BBC Radio 1 show.
Jazz bassist Ben Reed bolsters the London connection on Endless, playing on four of its tracks. Reed has released three solo records since 2014, performs in Laura Groves’s band, and has played on records by artists circling around the DEEK Recordings label. “Ben has been making music for years and years on his own, either playing all the instruments or getting someone to come in and play a little bit of piano,” said DEEK boss Bullion earlier this year, “He’s got three records that are brilliant. He's not really selling them. We’re all not particularly savvy when it comes to putting our music out there, or self-promotion.”
Rita Zebdi gets two credits on Endless, but only one of them is musical, singing backing vocals on “Commes des Garcons”. Otherwise Zebdi is an LA-based stylist who has worked with Ocean before (recently on his Calvin Klein campaign), and her main credit on Endless is for providing the wardrobe for its film.
Alex G has a dedicated cult following. The young guitarist and songwriter released a string of albums in quick succession via Bandcamp in the early 2010s, hitting a bigger breakthrough with 2014’s DSU and last year’s Domino-released Beach Music. Ocean, evidently a fan of what Alex does, tapped him to play guitar across Endless.
Sebastian (formerly stylised as SebastiAn) had long been rumoured for Frank Ocean’s new material. The French electronic producer and Ed Banger Records mainstay has three credits on Endless: one for “Slide On Me” and another for “Rushes”, and a final one for the visual album’s unexpected tech house throwdown of a closing track, “Higgs”.
Michael Uzowuru is credited as one of the four producers on Endless alongside Joe Thornalley, Troy Noka, and Ocean himself. The Nigerian-American producer has worked with various members of Odd Future as well as Om’mas Keith in the past.
‘Austin Hollows’, who plays guitar on “Higgs”, refers to Austin Feinstein, the young guitarist and frontman of LA rock band Slow Hollows. Feinstein previously worked with Tyler, the Creator on last year’s Cherry Bomb, and even appeared in the video for the Kali Uchis-featuring “Perfect”.