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DHL: An experimental, nebulous avant-garde track that blurs genre distinctions and previews an album

By Charlie Malcolm-McKay

The official release of Frank Ocean’s new track DHL, that was first previewed on his Instagram story back in December 2018, was aired on the long-awaited revival of his Blonded Radio Show and brings with it the prospect of a new album that would be the saving grace of this year’s mediocre musical endeavours (excluding the refreshing innovation of IGOR and ERYS of course).

Listening to the hazy enigmatic track is like standing on an endless inclinator that travels through the vortex of emission nebulas; both entrancing and comforting. His indecipherable lyrics and formless mumblings are characteristic of cloud rap but his soft-vocals and broken rhythm give it a unique and novel vibe. By moving on from the established r&b vocal infused sound of Channel Orange and Blonde Frank has once again proved his versatile and experimental prowess.

His newly embraced auto-tune murmurings go in part with the pop stylised cover art to create a theme of anonymity. The artwork depicts Frank with a bag over his head directly below a pop-art inspired sketch take on DHL. The contrast between the radiant multicolour text and the dull black suggests that this piece of work is about musical exploration and not a personal examination (as artistes so often use their music for). That said the various animated icons at the bottom of the cover may well be an indicator for other tracks on his potential album that may well go into themes of self and identity. As an artist Frank has become notorious for being elusive. The fact that he avoids doing interviews and has little social media presence means that we can interpret tracks like DHL from our own personal experiences rather than from the context of his life.

If there is one lyric that does stand out in a clear and intentional way it would be the repeated ‘coming soon’ that if nothing else indicates an album is on its way. The argument that that interpretation is a result of selective hearing is fruitless as why else would he simultaneously release club remixes of two other tracks at his club night PrEP+. At the moment Dear April and Cayendo are only available at in 7” vinyl format with an expected 8-12 week delivery time. So yes, while new music is without a doubt on its way, we should remind ourselves of the sagacious and somewhat irritating phrase; patience is a virtue.

For now, what can be said is that in the age of pushbacks and album delays (with Kanye, Lil Uzi Vert and Chance the Rapper coming to mind) having new Frank Ocean music is equivalent to being prescribed Ambien for chronic insomnia. A tranquil blur in the storm of music anticipation anxiety.