I already reviewed the album on which “Nights” appears—Frank Ocean – Blonde (2016)—but this song is so absurdly good that I am breaking my rules to give this monolith its own stage. “Nights” is a trip that can turn the most mundane night into a magical, dreamlike moment. It is one of those songs where the production is so incredibly well-done that even people who don’t speak English get hooked on it (and watch as it shapes their lives as the years go by). “Nights” can heighten anything—the moment in which you first felt the intoxication of love, the all-nighter you spent playing video games with an old friend, the devastation you feel over someone who broke your heart, the weird but fun indie-ish college party you went to last Thursday, etc.—but it can also take the backseat. It’ll just glide through the room in the periphery of conversation. It passes every vibe check, bringing warmth anywhere that lacks it. You can feel its radioactive bursts of full-throttle emotion. Plus I like the raw, candid lyrics just as much as the sound; that’s how incredible “Nights” is. So, it’s another home run for Frank—not that we’d expect anything less of the alternative R&B, urban contemporary pop, and neo-soul mastermind.
“Nights” is split into two main parts with a sort of yin-yang balance. First we have *The High* and then *The Comedown.* But to understand why I’m calling the two parts that, let’s turn back the clock to the reclusive wizard’s past—where a confluence of heartbreak, poverty, disaster, and drugs emerges. They emerge in a kid who lost everything on August 29th, 2005. A week after he moved into his dorm at the University of New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina obliterated his entire campus to the point where he had to leave. And Frank, whose father left him at a young age and whose mother was already broke when Katrina took away their house, slipped into homelessness. He moved a few times, surfed from couch to couch, and spent his life savings on time in a professional recording studio. His cocaine addiction spiraled out of control until he spent his days asleep on the couch and his nights in the studio, hence the lyrical contents of this song. Before his talents dragged him all the way to Hollywood as a ghostwriter for the likes of Beyoncé and Justin Bieber. Before Odd Future. Before the Grammy awards. Before the universal critical acclaim. It was a man who risked it all on the brink of stardom.
Anyway, you get the point. So let’s flash forward to 2016, where Frank’s album Blonde, which was recently named by Pitchfork as the best album of the decade, sent shockwaves through the music world. Enter “Nights,” one of the album’s earth-shattering tracks. It begins with a pleasant—yet surprisingly lukewarm—intro. Don’t worry: There’s a reason Mr. Ocean saved all of the fireworks for later on. So, the intro sets the tone for a harmless, fluid, uneventful track in a massive album tracklist, only for Ocean to raise the bar with each new twist in the song. At about the 1:40 mark of “Nights,” the magic begins to unfold. Heavy synths kick in, and Ocean drops poetic line after poetic line, laying his emotions all out as he recounts his past, which was filled with bullies & homophobia, with a refreshingly crude lack of a filter (in contrast to the often refined, esoteric, calculated language elsewhere in the album). Anyway, this psychedelic, avant-garde stretch of the track continues for a minute—and you feel like you’re at the gates of music heaven.
“Wanna see nirvana but don’t wanna die yet,
Know them boys wanna see me broke down and shit,
Bummed out and shit, stressed out and shit,
That’s everyday shit,
Shut the fuck up, I don’t want your conversation,
Rolling marijuana, that’s a cheap vacation.”Chorus
At the 3:00 mark of the song, you’re a little over halfway through it, so you know it’s about to get lit. But then Frank lets out an incredibly heartfelt and beautiful bridge about an ex-lover (see below) while the sounds transform around it. We transition into the strumming of a chaotic guitar riff while the drums slowly build up as the synthesizers stop dancing around you for a moment of clarity. And then comes the icing on the cake, the apex moment of 2016 in music: the beat switch at the 3:30 mark. It is an emotional thrill, a paradigm shift that gets better and better with every listen. I’ll save the rest of the details on my favorite minute or two of any song I’ve ever heard for you to really enjoy it (after all of the build-up). And fittingly, right after this legendary and insane little beat switch comes part 2 of ”Nights.”
“All my night, been ready for you all my night,
Been waiting on you all my night,
I’ll buzz you in, just let me know when you’re outside,
All my night, you’ve been missing all my night,
Still got some good nights memorized,
And the look back’s getting me right.”Bridge
The start of part 2 represents a paradigm shift for both the song and the album. Spanning under 2 minutes, it isn’t quite as long, but you can beat that Frank makes up for the quantity with distilled quality. As hinted by me calling the two parts The High and The Comedown, part 2 branches away from the euphoria of part 1 with a slumbering type of depression, except it’s addicting. Frank, who writes and produces all of his music by himself, interweaves heavy bass like a master as the ex-rapper shows off his ability to still rap at an elite level, laying out lucid memories of living in a New Orleans ghetto without money or support or mental health resources (while the rich white elites around him were totally fine), as well as slipping into bouts of insanity while his days and his nights slowly blurred together. “Every night fucks every day up, every day patches the night up,” he remarks. And his mix of social commentary, visceral anecdotes, and natural flow combine for potent bars. Meanwhile, the production seamlessly carries on.
“All of the reverends preaching self-made millionaire status,
When we could only eat at Shoney’s on occasion,
After ‘Trina hit I had to transfer campus,
Your apartment out in Houston’s where I waited,
Staying with you when I didn’t have an address,
Fucking on you when I didn’t own a mattress,
Working on a way to make it out of Texas, every night.”Verse 2
The song then wraps up with a much different delivery of that same chorus I cited earlier, with Frank’s vocals slowly waning as they get progressively more dark and low. The end of the song is timed perfectly, and Frank wraps things up so well that he couldn’t have made this song any better. Take anything out? It loses some of its soul. Add anything else? That’s too much to tackle, and it is already at a perfect length given its well-paced and conclusive material. The result is a shimmering, elegant, vulnerable, and endlessly gratifying song with mesmerizing sonic elements. “Nights” somehow feels like a complete movie—or a play—that this unique man somehow condensed to 5 minutes and 8 seconds. It is fun. It is challenging. It is dope. It is sweet. And I struggle to decide whether to write a ton more about it or just shut up and let the music do the talking. I think I’ll go with the latter, though. Besides, Frank Ocean is all about the music first. He doesn’t give a shit about media narratives or hype or any of that; he just puts his head down and, as Jay-Z recently said on Twitter, consistently makes “some of the best music we have ever heard.”
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