Abel Tesfaye, better known as the Weeknd, single handedly won over a multitude of hearts (he didn’t need to steal them, they were happily handed over) with his debut House of Balloons mixtape. Heavily backed by the likes of Drake, the initially enigmatic The Weeknd shot to fame this year with his throwback to actually good R&B. In a world of slanted mirrors and overcompensation, it is easy to see why the world loves Tesfaye and his “downcast” sound which strongly contrasts with the subject matter of more commercial tracks. Praised by an aggregation of critics – the likes of the Guardian, which commended House of Balloons for its “command of mood” among many other things – we have been eagerly awaiting his next venture.
The follow up mixtape, Thursday was released for free on August 19. Although his fans were bound to have worried about whether or not that initial feeling of breathlessness when first listening to his music could be recaptured for a second time, we needn’t have worried.
With the Weeknd’s signature haunting feel, the mixtape delves further into a world that has been created for us. Girls, sex, and drugs are made astonishingly beautiful by the voice that croons their imagery to life. Almost entirely devoid of hooks (bar ‘Life of the Party’) the heavy concepts and quietly crushing intensity leave no need and no desire for a sing-along chorus.
Although perhaps the (at times frail) voice which sings them out may not always leave you speechless, its lyrics and the feelings they invoke certainly do. Each track has its own bewitching quality, but one thing they all have in common is that once you start, you can’t stop. Self-professed as insatiable it comes as no surprise to me that some tracks are ranging in the 300+ play count range on my iTunes. But insatiable or not, its not something you’ve got much choice about.
Perfecting the woozy compositions and druggy atmospherics that make your heart ache, the production, the songs and the presentation seems to be even better than its predecessor. Albeit all the more brave, after undoubtedly gaining faith in his abilities, following the massive appraisal he’s received since House of Balloons.
The experimental vibe is evident, branching from almost exhibitionist tracks the likes of ‘Life of the Party’, which features creeping percussion and blaring synths to gentle strumming and minimal percussion in ‘Rolling Stone.’ And although the extent of debauchery explored may be irrelevant to the average human being’s life, Tesfaye allows us to live vicariously through him, somehow making it all the more relate-able for the fact that it isn’t. Yes, he sings about misery and scandal and sex and drugs, but there’s so much more to it than that.
Taking from a multitude of influences in terms of the samples used, it is important to remember that despite supremely high expectations the Weeknd, at 21, is still at the beginning of what is likely to be a long and illustrious career. And although Thursday may not be hugely different to House of Balloons, I see no reason why it should be; when Mr. Tesfaye has clearly managed to mesmerize so many different people with an emotion that as of yet I can find no word to describe. Although branching out and experimenting, the mood conjured is still (thankfully) the same. And with all the “bitch I’m ballin” type tracks on the interwebs and on our iTunes these days, whats wrong with a little good old fashioned reflection?
For lack of a better phrase I must second The Guardian in commending The Weeknd for his ability to command mood, command attention and command pulse. Considering the Weeknd is still yet to release a full-length studio album, one can only imagine what he has in store for his hypnotized public. What we do know, for now though, is that he’s set to be releasing a third mixtape, Echoes of Silence in the coming months.
Download: The Weeknd – Thursday [Mixtape]