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  • Writer's pictureJamie Varley

Dirty Dancing By Myself

The Album


We weren’t prepared to come of age in the social media generation.

The customs our parents faced, established as the eternal rite of passage for youth after decades of certainty, fell back like tonnes of ice off the face of a continental glacier with continual change never settling long enough to comprehend. There was no more solid ground to stand on, with each precious step towards adulthood fraught with social and emotional consequences.

The kids were not alright. Or at least many of them, those who cared too much or didn’t care enough. Anxiety, depression, and addiction were our confidantes as we funneled into a society that we did not believe would take care of us. Technology rewired what we were taught to value, in others and in ourselves. All while the gauze peeled off of century-old wounds that threatened all the beauty and innocence on the only home we’ve ever known.

Damaged and exhausted was no way to grow into ourselves. Pain the only religion we shared, yet we never felt so isolated.

Until a man in a grey room began building a staircase.

In August 2016, a looped video of Frank Ocean woodworking over muffled instrumentation appeared online. Four years earlier, Ocean redefined what honesty and introspection’s role was in music, enthralling audiences with his magnetic opus Channel Orange. After an intimate and emotionally exhausting release (as well as the surprising open letter about his sexuality a week earlier), Ocean retreated from the limelight, aside from odd public appearances and guest verses on works with former Odd Future collaborators Tyler, The Creator and Earl, as well as kingmakers JAY-Z, Beyoncé and Kanye West. But in 2016, rumours of a new album named BOYS DON’T CRY surfaced online and the internet exploded, knowing a new album from Frank Ocean is exactly what our collective souls needed. But it wouldn’t be as straightforward as anyone expected.

On August 19th, Frank Ocean did release an album, titled Endless, glitchy dreamscape of Ocean’s soaring falsetto and some of his most precise bars to date. It was instantly eaten up by his fanbase, but nobody was ready for the sleight of hand that Ocean pulled next. After Endless capped off his contractual obligation to Def Jam to release two albums under the label, Ocean was free – contractually and emotionally – to put out whatever he pleased, on his own terms. The next day, Blonde was released.

From the time it takes for the glowing opening e minor to lead to the needle skipping to an end amidst hurried bodies shuffling to nowhere, life looks a little different. A little lighter, a little softer, a little less grey and more pink. You’re living the same life in the same body, but around the peripheries, things seem a bit more okay. It’s as if the toxins have been replaced by a mellow buzz, that you can’t quite understand but know it’s there.

Musically, Ocean welcomes listeners down the White Rabbit’s hole into an ethereal world of love and memory. In his domain of rawness and naked intimacy, we feel a sense of belonging in our shared loneliness, with Ocean acting as the usher to our own feelings. And with Ocean facing them head on or dancing around the feelings attached to them, we may never come to peace with our scars and desires, but we can begin to accept them.

Ocean eulogizes death of heroes and innocence over simple and drifting instrumentation, in 17 tracks that pass in the blink of an eye. Nearly each song’s palette is built off vocals, guitar, electric piano, and a drum machine, but the colours are not painted in brushstrokes like a conventional painting. Instead, they swirl and blende and mix on a canvas in a surrealist’s dream, becoming something so much bigger than the dyes and acrylic. Ocean’s voice is regularly pitched up (often when touching on nostalgia, invoking memories of his younger self), layered, or patched together with hums and shrieks, demonstrating the lengths that one’s own voice can go.

We are opened up to the freedom of Ocean’s mind, and as he skips through the issues weighing on his conscience, we share in the therapy. It’s as if he is shouldering our weight through his healing. From my perspective, it is our tears that he sheds on the album cover.


The Food

Hell Earth Heaven Mousse

There are three tiers of this dessert: the graham cracker core, strawberry mousse filling, and fresh whipped cream topping, mounted by a caramelized sugar crown. These represent the ground and everything below it, the pink skies dozing off as the sun goes down, and the clouds and heavens above it. The recipe allows the domains to come together in a fragile yet rich experience.

Begin with the caramelized candy topping. Mix 4 tbsp with 1 1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil over medium until the sugar dissolves. Do not stir. After 8 minutes, pour the mixture onto a baking tray with parchment paper. Immediately refrigerate, and let sit for at least 30 minutes.

Create the graham cracker crust by mixing together 1 1/2 cups of crumbled graham crackers, ¼ cup of brown sugar, and 7 tbsp of melted butter in a bowl. Grease 6 ramekins and press the crust until even with your thumbs. Freeze for an hour.

Next, combine a full lemon’s juice with 2 1/2 tsp of strawberry gelatin and let the gelatin absorb the lemon juice until the mixture gels. Blend 1 pint of stemmed strawberries until pureed, and add to a pot over medium heat with 1/3 cups of sugar. Bring to a slow boil. Remove from heat and add the gelatin mixture, and bring to room temperature.

Combine 3 cups of heavy cream with 3 tbsp sugar in an electric mixer and beat into stiff peaks. Once peaks form, pour 2 thirds into a large mixing bowl and gently stir in the strawberry mixture to maintain the fluff of the cream.

With the remaining whipped cream, add in 1.5 tsp of vanilla extract and add sugar to taste.

Pull the ramekins out of the freezer, and layer on the strawberry mousse followed by the whipped cream. Alternatively, trace a knife around the crust and gently tap the bottom until the crust can be removed, and structure the strawberry and cream on top for a free form experience out of the ramekin (pictured).

Our original cocktail, the Nostalgia, Ultra, is a sweet and smoky, spirit-forward cocktail with brandy and bourbon exposing all corners of the tongue to a light and warm experience. Combine 1.5 oz bourbon, .5 oz brandy, .5oz vermouth, a splash of Aperol, a dash Angostura bitters, and a splash of lemon juice into a mixing glass with ice. Garnish with a Luxardo cherry and serve in a coupe glass. Optional: add the glass to a smoking apparatus and smoke with cherry wood.

This leads to an herbal, smooth, and powerful cocktail with and tastefully sweet and smoky finish.


The Experience

Despite our inevitable quest to explore, understand, and conquer, there are still pockets of our existence that we do not, nor are even considerably close to understanding. The deep sea or the boundaries of space being two, both protected from our reaches by distance and nature. But the most intimate and immediate to us, one that dictates every shred of who we are, one that is equally if not more unfathomable to comprehend, is our own mind.

While we may never be able to prove the mystery of consciousness or what emotions and intelligence truly are, an area that we are excitedly learning more and more about is the power of dreams. Dreams help us store important memories, often with slivers of experiences manifesting themselves in the mosaic of our deepest thoughts. Dreams help us sort through problems, giving us a consequence-free dress rehearsal to face our fears. Dreams help us heal, sponging the pain and grief away from past traumas to help us reset our emotions and give us a fighting chance at turning a new leaf each morning.

What Frank Ocean does on Blonde is stimulate the remedial benefits of dream without the need to ever close our eyes. This is how we leave the album feeling more calmer and more at peace with ourselves and our place in the universe. His album is a master class on oneiric theory through his control of musical form. Ocean summons not just moments that we all relate to (“Sweet 16, how was I supposed to know anything”, “Tyler slept on my sofa Yeah, n***** go back that far”), but more importantly, feelings (“we got so familiar”, "it's hell on Earth and the city's on fire, inhale, in hell there's heaven", “I know you gotta leave, take down some summertime”), that pluck at the softest parts of our memories and relieve the stress wound tightly in our nerves. The ethereal production and vocal shapeshifting create such sensory deprivation that allow us to leave our heads for a few minutes.

Through our meal, we are transformed by taste and feeling, with textures of the cumulus magenta skies above us or the steady ground below. Each bite helps us keep up with the highs and low Ocean recounts, never failing to accompany his fantastical journey without a sailboat to drift on along with. The haziness of our cocktail challenges the nuance of flavour and contributes to the relaxation and dilution of our fears.

Like a dream, we heal from this experience. We feel cleansed. And we feel supported, recognized, acknowledged by a presence as close to us yet diving and celestial as our angels watching over us. Listening to Blonde helps us escape and come back to a world slightly more kind – not only from our surroundings but from ourselves.

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