The Weeknd is getting everyone talking by saying very little. Hailing from Toronto, Canada and endorsed by superstar Drake, the R&B group has shrouded itself with an air of mystery at a time when overexposure seems to be the de facto standard. Very little is known about the group, consisting of Abel Tesfaye on vocals and producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo. Instead of appearing in the flesh, The Weeknd—pronounced "weakened"—couples its music with sensual black-and-white imagery that could easily pass as flicks from a French art house film. The artwork for the debut mixtape House of Balloons simply depicts a topless woman lying on the bathroom floor, engulfed in a blanket of black and white balloons and ostensibly unconscious after a hard night of partying.
Excess is the pervading driver throughout the nine-track mixtape, a hazy journey of sex, drugs and bombast. “Take a glass…don’t be scared…Trust me girl, you want to be high for this,” Tesfaye croons on the opening track “High For This,” both setting the mood and perhaps encouraging the state under which the project could be best enjoyed. R&B is a misnomer here, as the songs effortlessly float between R&B, hip-hop, electro and rock, pulling inspiration from sources like indie rock group Beach House and Brit rockers Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Like Drake’s So Far Gone or Frank Ocean’s nostalgia/ultra, House of Balloons plays in a lane of post-metrosexual hip-hop, pandering to men in skinny jeans with tales of high-class debauchery all the while without offending women. It’s emo on ecstasy; aspiration music for the man who dreams of jet-setting affairs with supermodels who could double as weed carriers.
There’s a matter-of-factness that flows through the ’tape, particularly on the topic of women, who in Tesfaye’s world, are largely opportunistic and not to be trusted. In “The Morning,” the singer cautions about falling for a fast girl: “Better slow down, she’ll feel it in the morning. Ain’t the kind of girl you’ll be seeing in the morning.” Meanwhile, “Wicked Games” is a sultry ode to a stripper he entices with lines like “bring your body baby, I could bring you fame,” while knowing she doesn’t reciprocate feelings for him. The machismo is not fully believable, though, and there are hints at sensitivity throughout. On “The Knowing”—the project’s beautifully haunting closer—Tesfaye lashes out at his cheating lover and despite a verbal assurance of acceptance, his breathy falsetto indicates an underlying vulnerability. Perhaps the party has to end some time. No high or facade can be upheld forever and like gravity to the proverbial balloon, the truth ultimately brings everything back down to reality. —Sowmya Krishnamurthy
UPDATE: Turns out The Weeknd is singular. Mystery solved(?)
Download House Of Balloons at the group’s official website: http://www.the-weeknd.com/