Emerson Leif
Emerson Leif | Supplied

Love Letter to a Record: Emerson Leif on Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’

Music Feeds’ Love Letter to a Record series asks artists to reflect on their relationship with the music they love and share stories about how it has influenced their lives. Here, Emerson Leif sings the praises of Frank Ocean’s second (and most recent) studio album, Blonde (2016).

Emerson Leif released the EP, Good Shot, at the end of October 2022. It includes the recent single ‘Blood’, which reveals Leif’s thirst for connection during the long years of Covid lockdowns and border closures. “I witnessed so much division over the last few years and found myself craving human connection beyond face value,” Leif said. The EP also includes the singles ‘Good Shot’ and ‘Fine’.

Emerson Leif’s Love Letter to Frank Ocean’s Blonde

Emerson Leif: I so clearly remember the first time I heard Blonde by Frank Ocean. I was in my bedroom at a past share house with these huge floor to ceiling windows facing west that let the sunset pour into the room. I get bored easily and can find it hard to focus at the best of times. Usually I flick through songs on a new album until I find something I like, but this was different. The moment I hit play I knew I didn’t want to miss a moment.

I lay on the floor and was completely transported as the sunset fell through windows, across the floor and onto my face. It is one of the few times I can say I listened to a body of work front to back. This music was so nostalgic and brought up so much beauty and pain from the past, and all at the same time, it felt so new and inspiring.

Frank’s vocals are a highlight for me and I am still so drawn to the way those vocals are treated. The huge spaces of reverb-soaked, layered vocals contrasted against intimately close and dry solo sections are incredible. No surprise to hear that Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys and The Beatles are noted as strong influences. I even noticed a few Beatles melodies in there.

Frank Ocean – ‘Ivy’

The lyrics said things that I had felt before but had not been able to express or articulate myself. I also love how seemingly everyday phrases are delivered in such a conversational and poetic way.

The use of pitching vocals was done so beautifully and felt particularly purposeful when pitched up, portraying a sense of innocence, catching a different part of Ocean’s voice. The way the songs come together dispel any preconceived notions of how a catchy or meaningful song should be put together, sonically or structurally.

In contrast to the dense vocal layers, the saying “less is more” rings true for so much of the production on this album, and the music sounds effortless throughout. Like so much great art, the effortlessness must have come at a cost. As an artist often berated for wanting to do another take or explore a different sound, I remember feeling so validated to discover that some of these tracks were results of over 50 versions.

The juxtaposition between the ethereal and complex vocals and minimal production is perhaps what I love most about this album. You can feel the restraint giving power to what’s left to breathe in each track. As I was losing myself in these songs, I felt like a door had opened to new possibilities as a person and as an artist. The sky will forever feel higher than it did before.

Emerson Leif – ‘Good Shot’

  • Emerson Leif’s new EP, Good Shot, is out now.

Further Reading

Five Songs That Influenced Golden Vessel’s New Album ‘eee’

Love Letter to a Record: Aphir on The Internet’s ‘Ego Death’

Craig David: “I Poured My Heart Into What I Was Saying”

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