It started around midnight last night, the worrying and fretting, sweat emanating from the pores of nervous stans. When oh when would the new Frank Ocean album drop? Surely it must be any minute now, given the New York Times story from earlier in the week, revealing August 5 as the release date for the R&B sensation's highly-anticipated Boys Don't Cry, the follow-up to his game-changing 2012 LP channel ORANGE. Fans watched a mysterious live stream on the singer's website, hoping for some clues or tunes from an artist seemingly more interested in carpentry than music.
Yet no matter how many times these eager followers desperately refreshed Apple Music, the record did not come. By sunrise, the world was in a frothy panic over yet another missed Frank Ocean release date. Hunger strikes were declared. Babies refused to be born. Cannibalism would surely soon follow.
The beauty of capitalism under social democracy is the presence of choice. To that end, those reluctant to descend into a sort of Mad Max-style desert madness with the rest of Ocean's lemmings assuredly noticed the ads for DJ Snake's Encore while scrolling through their digital music service of choice. Out of boredom or genuine interest, those who did grab the French DJ and producer's latest were treated to what is undoubtedly one of the best pop albums of the year, Boys Don't Cry notwithstanding.
As we've learned from DJ Khaled and his massively successful guest-stacked Major Key, 2016 is not about who you are, but rather who you know. No man is an island, and Ocean's stubborn insularity makes him vulnerable in a time of marquee match-ups like Khaled's pairing of Jay Z and Future or the rumored forthcoming Drake and Kanye joint mixtape. Still basking in the glow of his royalties for Major Lazer's "Lean On," Snake's cross-genre album strategy seems designed for success.
From the balearic balladry of "Sober" to the punk rock turn-up of "Propaganda," Encore demonstrates that Top 40 EDM is capable of both breadth and emotional depth, despite what its doomsayers and naysayers claim. Featuring some of the biggest names in contemporary—certainly more than are expected on known megalomaniac Ocean's unreleased album—Snake's full-length debut shakes the foundations of multiple genres. On the hip-hop front, Young Thug and Jeremih grace sleepy banger "The Half," while Migos and Travis Scott's "Oh Me Oh My" is straight trap.
EDM fans need not worry that they've been abandoned by the "Turn Down For What" producer, thanks to the hardstyle-heavy Yellow Claw collab "Ocho Cinco" and the ethereal, Skrillex-assisted "Sahara." Albanian rapper and singer's G4shi's clubby take on "4 Life" is perfect hot weather-listening music, while British singer Bipolar Sunshine contributes upbeat vocals to hit single "Middle" and mystic disco ditty "Future Pt. 2." Yet it's the pop-R&B component of Encore that puts the record in direct chart competition with Boys Don't Cry. Who needs more moody posturing from the guy behind "Thinkin Bout You" when we have the best Justin Bieber song of the year in "Let Me Love You"?
All that said, it's album closer "Here Comes The Night" that should leave Ocean nervously tugging at his bespoke shirt collar. GOOD Music diehards know Mr. Hudson from his incomparable work on Kanye's 808s And Heartbreak, as well his own 2009 album Straight No Chaser. (Coincidentally, the former Odd Future member sampled a song from the latter on his debut mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra.) With this one soaring song, Snake may have kicked off a Mr. Hudson revival, or at least planted the seed for one. Whether or not Ocean deigns to grace us with an album this week, this month, or even this year, he's got a tenuous grip on the R&B crown. Let's hope his woodwork is sturdy enough to ensure.
Gary Suarez is on Twitter.