19.08.2011, Words by Charlie Jones


The hype surrounding Abel Tesfaye’s, aka The Weeknd, first release “House Of Balloons” was well deserved. Clawing it’s way out of a murky underworld of after-parties, drugs and women, crooning vocals and eerie production set the music world ablaze and went a long way towards defining the sound of R&B this year. Much of this popularity came from The Weeknd’s subject matter, which strongly contrasts the more glamourous commercial music that so many people love simply as a guilty pleasure. House of Balloons was direct answer to this, channelling equally the glitz of Chris Brown and the late-night louche of The xx. A heady combination of stunning vocal ability, intelligent production and distinct lack of any photographs or interviews led directly to internet infamy, with everyone calling out The Weeknd’s name.

Of course, Tesfaye nearly broke the internet yesterday when he released his second free mixtape “Thursday” into the wild, and the result sounds altogether more grandiose, more wailing and higher budget than what we’ve heard before, but thankfully laced with the same mournful luxury that seduced us in the first place. The opening track “Lonely Star” paves the way for the rest of the songs to follow and it only takes a minute for the music to be punctuated by a falcetto “Baby I can fuck you right”, setting the tone for the whole release, and while we’ve enjoyed vicariously living through the binges and blackouts of House of Balloons, it’s a formula that can only last so long. Much like with Tyler The Creator, what initially begin as shockingly honest confessions, quickly turn predictable as the listener becomes desensitised to the grimier side of life. Lines like “I’ll be making love to her through you / so let me keep my eyes closed” excite and disturb, but become meaningless if laid on too strong.

Tracks like “Rolling Stone” and “Gone” prove that Abel is an undeniable talent, with Gone layering natural and auto-tuned vocals in a similar style to Bon Iver, while eventually morphing groggily into an new track entirely, not only the stand-out piece of the release but some of the best of his career so far. “The Zone” exemplifies exactly what beguiled so many fans in the first place with swirling vocals masking sinister emotions behind the veil of a love song. It’s only made sweeter by finally realising a guest appearance with fellow Canadian and governor of gloom, Drake. Between these excellent tracks, the rest of the release seems a little lack-luster. The haunting melody of “Thursday” is let down down by numb production, while the final track “Heaven or Las Vegas” feels far out of place, channelling dub and metal to poor effect. Overall it seems that the extra effort put into creating a release with more original instrumentation than it’s predecessor has polished a sound whose allure came from it’s squalid nature in the first place. Obviously the un-cleared samples of House of Balloons don’t make it viable to be a commercial success, but while these mixtapes are free it would be more inspiring to hear producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo taking more risks.

At 21 years old it seems that there are only a handful of things that Abel gets up to in his spare time. It’s something that leads to incredibly frank and disturbing music, but it leaves you wondering if 3 free mixtapes and whatever comes after can be sustained by the bad taste left in your mouth the morning after the night before. His talent for singing and writing melodies eclipses much of the competition, and no doubt the queue of major record execs started forming behind him a long time ago. A recent performance put him on the same bill as Drake, Rick Ross and Stevie Wonder, so The Weeknd’s place in popular music is all but cemented. Much like Rick Ross, it’s tough building a career basing your lyrics on only one subject, but the pay off is potentially huge.


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