Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Review: The Weeknd - House of Balloons

Download The Weeknd - House of Balloons here
Very little is known about the Weeknd, except that it’s the name given a project headed by Abel Tesfaye, a Canadian R&B singer who has managed to generate a considerable amount of buzz in a relatively short timeframe; having only released three songs before the release of the official first (free!) mixtape House of Balloons: "Loft Music", "The Morning" and "What You Need" (all three appearing on House of Balloons) in a few short months. Of course part of the hype can be credited to Drake (whose producer Noah "40" Shebib was not involved in producing House of Balloons, despite speculation), however the quality of the material cannot be overlooked as a contributing factor to the wildfire coverage of the album. Tesfaye and producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo have crafted a superb, noirish 50 minute journey that celebrates not only a new underground appreciation and interest in R&B (see Frank Ocean, The-Dream, How To Dress Well) but the genre’s mainstream torch-bearers also (the aforementioned Drake, and to some extent Kanye West).

The tension between the two sides of the Weeknd’s coin give Tesfaye’s aching voice a fitting home, and it tells of a very complex, confusing and emotional character, fictional or not. The themes of lust, sexual tension, druggy disorientation, and ultimately dissatisfaction become the ever-increasing push as the album progresses, set against a brooding, atmospheric, almost lo-fi backdrop of keys and pulses. The title and colourless cover artwork perfectly convey these ideas in the way the title track "House of Balloons - Glass Table Girls" showcases them. The clear Siouxsie and the Banshees’ "Happy House" sample seems a fitting thematic choice on which to base the song, and also a suitably indie nod. The first half of the song, driven by John McGeoch’s famous guitar line is the high part. The words "This is a happy house" are sung along to with clear irony. The second half takes a much darker, more frightening tone which is as fascinating as many more disturbing moments of the album.

There are a great deal of hooks on this album which counterbalance the unsettling tones nicely. "The Morning" sticks particularly strongly, with it’s soaring guitar clipped by claustrophobic beats standing out a little from the ultimately synthy default position. "What You Need" is another fantastic track due to it’s sparse, implicit approach overtaking many of the more overt tracks in terms of creepiness, mirrored by the lyrics: "He’s what you want/I’m what you need". And "Loft Music" might be the emotional high, to repeat the lyrics will spoil them.

To receive so much attention does raise other questions however. The Siouxie nod was already picked up on, but the Beach House sample here is even stronger evidence for the "hipster R&B" argument which seems to have perhaps inevitably begun. In reality the buzz of this release can be seen just as much in mainstream circles as it’s been noted in indie circles. The Weeknd shows signs of a unique change to the R&B formula, the darkness, bleakness and debauchery of which can be seen to parallel the rise of hip-hop collective Odd Future in terms of public interest. House of Balloons already feels like an established classic, and positive signs of a major label release seem not too distant. Expect more, because the Weeknd surely can deliver.

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