As a rule, the Weeknd isn’t the music you play during the party. It’s what you play at the after party. I’ve had a few friends make this blatant mistake. The Weeknd is Toronto native Abel Tesfaye’s stage name, and if you’re not familiar with his work, you should be. He’s been everywhere within the last few years, coming out of nowhere and dropping three highly praised mix-tapes in 2011 (which became the compilation album Trilogy). He most recently appeared on Juicy J’s “One of Those Nights,” singing as well as co-producing. He’s smart, he’s versatile and he’s here to stay.
Tesfaye doesn’t deal with R&B in the traditional sense. He comes from someplace dark and floods the genre with echoes and slow beats, making for perfect make-out music. His voice is seductive. He makes girls’ knees weak. And his vulnerability is always on full display. Kiss Land, his first real album, delivers all of these qualities, but this time around, his storytelling is a honed skill, even if it is about sex, drugs and success.
“The Town,” one of the opening tracks, is a prime example of everything above. It’s about a girl, it’s about wanting, and as with all his music, it’s more about the lap dance than the romance. “Love in the Sky” only builds on the motif; it’s music you play to get the opposite sex to bed. If you’re looking for some deeper meaning, this album isn’t for you. If you’re down for a good time, the Weeknd is where it’s at.
“Belong to the World” definitely outduels “Live For,” Tesfaye’s collaboration with Drake, as top track. That’s surprising considering the two have worked together in the past, but “Live For” is unnatural, mostly because it feels and acts like a Drake song, something unwelcome halfway through the album. “Belong to the World” is thunderous and bass-ridden but it’s a standout, and an obvious pick as a single. And the first single, “Kiss Land,” is classic, mix-tape era Weeknd, a throwback to pre-success days, but it complements the heavier sound in “Belong to the World.” We may be experiencing the beginning of Tesfaye’s branching out.
Further evidence: “Wanderlust” is taken straight out of the ’80s, and it’s Tesfaye’s most successful attempt at matching the power and appeal of Michael Jackson (besides his previous cover of Jackson’s “Dirty Diana”). And in true Michael Jackson fashion, the bonus track remix of “Wanderlust” by Pharrell Williams and the Weeknd’s remix of Kavinsky’s “Odd Look” are both dance floor worthy, and the only true dance tracks the Weeknd has ever been a part of. These are definitely worth taking the time to find.
Tesfaye’s dedication to the music and his producer’s role help Kiss Land come off almost without a hitch, never laboring or over-emphasizing itself. It feels good, to all the senses. It puts you in the moment. It isn’t your mother’s R&B, hell no, but this album is a haunting powerhouse in its own right, visceral and raw. And the Weeknd doesn’t just take you; he takes you all the way.