Earl Sweatshirt’s “Sunday” brings you down low, the kind of way you feel on a Sunday night with a tight stomach, you’re head turning over and over the fast approaching morning. Earl’s monotonously monotone grumble pervades the organ’s slow crawling soundscape with portraits of despair at the dead week ahead. That is, until Frank Ocean cuts through the haze with a sharp clarity, contributing a gleaming verse that stands toe to toe with the lyrical wizardry of Earl. The two present differing visions of the week after Sunday, for Frank something new, for Earl something repetitive. This is all juxtaposed symbolically by the sharp beat change that accompanies the shift into Frank’s vocals. The soundscape becomes soft and dreamy with a progression that gives it the sense of building toward something, while Earl’s portion is stilted and looped.
“All my dreams got dimmer when I stopped smokin pot / Nightmares got more vivid when I stopped smokin pot,” Earl raps on the chorus. He is trapped in his own mind it seems, without substances to ease his cyclical thoughts. The beat is three organ notes with strong drums for emphasis. They pound on the listener’s ears mercilessly in sync with Earl’s scratchy vocals, inescapably infecting one’s head. This is the stuff depression is made of, excess of thought. Earl cannot stop thinking of his girlfriend and their arguing, but Frank’s portion of the beat comes in to soothe him. Better than pot is the music.
It starts with a brief pause. The three note progression carries on but with echo so that the sounds seem to lazily and blissfully drift off, like thoughts coming and going, finally freed from their long captivity. The drums are still there but somehow their heaviness seems to make the floating music even lighter in contrast. “Give me Bali beach, no molly, please/ Palm, no marijuana, trees” Frank raps, lyrically a stark contrast to Earl’s sober laments. Frank chooses to live drug free, and for it his mind is more free. The beat change seems to free Earl from his worries as well, if only for a short time as the initial beat crashes back down upon its airy counterpart for one final chorus sung by Frank.
The conflict between the two beats makes for an interesting and enlightening aural experience. It’s like a tug of war between two alternating visions, played out in the sounds as well as the lyrical expression. Frank and Earl’s contrasting flows ass another layer of conflict to that aural experience. It’s an effective technique used to great affect by many musical innovators before, my personal favorite being “What is and What Should Never Be” by Led Zeppelin. The resolution of the conflict is open ended, and I think that Frank and Earl want to keep it that way.