The consumer is never going to view a piece of art in the same way as its creator. Though an artist can painstakingly try to relay messages through their work, the consumer ultimately decides how to interpret the final product. This phenomenon rings especially true when examining the career of Frank Ocean.
An artist who remains enigmatic on social media except for the rare Tumblr or Instagram post, Ocean built his career through unexpected album drops and rare live performances. He then goes back into hiding while the rest of the world listens to what he's put out. When you have a slim public image to provide context for your work, how does the audience fill in the gaps?
This is where Dissect comes in. This Spotify podcast takes an album each season and breaks down each track—from the meaning of the lyrics to the artist’s choice in production elements. It's content about an artist's content.
Creator/host Cole Cuchna’s mission for the series, according to Dissect’s website, is to combat the overly–saturated state we live in. Rather than simply listening to a project before moving on to the next, he told The Atlantic that he aims to provide context behind an artist’s work. And the attention to detail is spot on. Cuchna dedicates the lengthy episodes to fully understanding each song, which can be extremely tedious when dealing with artists who tend to remain hidden in the private eye.
In Season 3, Episode 9, Cuchna places a magnifying glass over “Ivy” from Ocean’s Blonde. He tracked down an early rendition of the song performed over a basic drum pattern and clunky melody that was much different than the one fans instantly lauded as one of the album’s highlights. Cuchna quptes an interview featuring one of the track’s producers where they relay the vision Ocean and the team had for the song before diving into the musical pitch the song uses throughout.
Cuchna has broken down several albums praised for their genius elements, such as Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Evidently, avid music listeners appreciate Cuchna's efforts. Last year, Dissect topped the New York Times’ “Five Great Podcasts from 2018” list, being praised as a passion project turned intense investigation.
Dissect clarifies every oddly specific song lyrics and the artist’s reasoning behind colorful production choices. However, does it muddy the relationship between listener and songwriter, when the listener has all the answers in front of them? On the other hand, is Dissect necessary for the fan to truly enjoy a piece of music in its entirety?
Although the podcast shows us the creative process and narrative elements behind a song, it also can at times ruin the consumer’s ability to adopt the project wholeheartedly as their own. It eliminates the room for you to hypothesize, to insert your own vivid memories and feelings into the work. For a songwriter as nuanced and reserved as Frank Ocean, perhaps filling in the blanks beyond the tracklist on “Blonde” or the poems on his Tumblr page is ruining the mysterious fun of it all.
Of course, it will always be entertaining to fully analyze a song or album, as Dissect reminds us. Yet, it's equally important that we hold on to the inherently personal way a piece of music can make us feel, without focusing too much on analysis.
Dissect is available exclusively on Spotify and recently wrapped its fourth season.