“Tesfaye’s music takes you to another place. There is nothing else to do but to keep it on repeat and never come back…”
The Weekend | Trilogy
For the large part of The Weeknd fans reading this, you will already have all of his songs safely stored on your iPod. Yet, for those who are blissfully unaware of Abel Tesfaye’s The Weeknd, Trilogy – made up of three remastered mix tape and released under Universal Republic and his own label XO – is the best musical introduction of an r’n’b artist that you will get. Having started off with a modest internet presence – no photos and no real artist-to-fan contact accompanying the release of his first mixtape House of Balloons in March 2011 – Tesfaye immediately set himself up with a fan base full of intrigue. Undeniably, the music and voice spoke for itself.
Since the release of two further mix tapes, Tesfaye’s songs are still making a name for themselves and the ability to grasp even a moment in time where the music positively lacks the image-focused attention that seems to drown out every other artist, is something short of a miracle. Singing of dark moments and over-indulgent nights, this strays away from the mass-produced lyrics we are used to. Do we honestly want the future of r’n’ b to be focused on the Ushers and Chris Browns of the moment? It’s clear that with the likes of Frank Ocean and now the first ‘proper’ release from The Weeknd joining the charts, relief can be felt as r’n’b will no longer be lost on strenuous dance moves and continuous thumping beats.
Despite the Weeknd’s relative anonymity, after self-releasing House of Balloons the mix tape was nominated for the Canadian Polaris Music Prize in 2011, which in hindsight is unsurprising as the content is astoundingly mature for someone of the age of 21. It goes on to kick off Trilogy’s disc one, focusing on dark lyrics and well-crafted hooks beginning with ‘High for This’ – quiet and subtle with Tesfaye’s soft yet gripping vocals emerging onto the track with “You don’t know what’s in store, but you know what you’re here for”. When you reach the end of the track you realise that you are already becoming attracted to Tesfaye’s sinful world of casual sex, drugs and alcohol, moving through his nocturnal version of reality as a form of escapism from the norm that we are used to. ‘House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls’, a track based on the lead hook of “Happy House” by Siouxsie and the Banshees, continues to push the lyrical boundaries, undoubtedly one of the standout tracks and one which could play out as the soundtrack for the third or fourth after party of the morning afrer. The quality of the musical backdrop is maintained on ‘Wicked Games’ amidst the daring lyrical content continuing “Bring the drugs baby, I can bring the pain….so tell me you love me, only for tonight” with the sexual intensity of the song increasing with every note.
Producers of House of Balloons, Don McKinney and Carlo “Illangelo” Montagnese, were once again drafted in to work on the second mixtape Thursday which forms the second disc Trilogy. Channeling more rock/pop beats and trying out new production techniques, the producers actually start to experiment with fewer hooks, yet remain devoted to keeping Tesfaye’s vocals in the spotlight. On first listen grittier sounds can be heard, with rock based guitars particularly noted on ‘Life Of the Party’, ‘The Birds Pt. 1’ and with sensual acoustic guitars being used at the start and finish of ‘Rolling Stone’ absorbing us into the moment then letting us go at the end. Although the music spoke for itself, at the time of the House of Balloons release Tesfaye’s increasing fame was partly credited to fellow Canadian Drake who quoted lyrics from ‘Wicked Games’ onto his twitter account. Going on to prove his admiration for the singer, he went onto feature on ‘The Zone’, an echoey track of drunken pain “I’ll be making love to her through you, so let me keep my eyes closed” and athough additional singers were not needed to fulfill an excellent second disc, Drake suitably gives this extended track an ending with edge.
Disc three – which comprises the ‘Echoes of Silence’ mix tape dropped back at the end of 2011 – feels more up-to-date with Tesfaye as an artist, documenting the highs and lows of his growing success. Musically it remains faithful to his House of Balloons roots, yet it is somewhat slicker and has increased depth than previous tracks. Welcoming tributes to his country in the track ‘Montreal’ and Michael Jakcson’s Dirty Diana with ‘D.D’, Tesfaye’s vocals do not disappoint, reminding us of the range he can achieve with his upper register staying as strong as ever and leaving listeners with hauntingly similar tones to the King of Pop himself. The streamlined songwriting progresses in ‘XO/The Host’, with an anthemic chorus of encouragement to the female in question to indulge in drink/drugs – XO being the street name for ecstasy or perhaps the reference to the alcoholic drink Patron so “If you wanna go again, you can always call me”.
Although an astounding album for someone so young, if pushed for a flaw, it would be that there are only three new tracks on ‘Trilogy’. ‘Twenty Eight’ a powerful piano-driven number, ‘Valerie’ a slow burning confessional song and ‘Till Dawn (Here Comes the Sun)’ depicting a secret relationship with a woman who already has a partner “…my denial keeps me on the edge of the chance, that you’ll stay through the night”. Given that his last mixtape was released just under a year ago, a few more additional songs would have been warmly welcomed by his ever-growing group of fans. Let’s put it this way, looking forward to an artist’s new album only to find it’s full of songs you already have is a bit of an anti-climax.
Having said that, the attraction with the Weeknd is that he is relatively unknown and although it is difficult to face the fact that after the release of Trilogy he might lose somewhat of his edge by becoming hugely commercial – in the talent pool there are very few equals – it would be sinful to suggest nothing else other than to buy this album.
His ability to provoke a longing to gravitate to every beat yet leave you lingering on every note sung is profoundly incomprehensible and the quality of each song so raw that you become disorientated from such intimate moments you feel you share with Tesfaye and him alone. Lyrically he goes to places which might not have been suggested by a large-scale record label for a relatively new artist but Tesfaye has built a reputation for his, if somewhat uncomfortable, depiction of moments spent with women, drugs and alcohol and it is understood that every word he sings is sung with genuine authenticity. With the lyrics used, and notes sung, he uses his music to take you to another place and is one of the only artists who can actually get you there – so there’s nothing else to do but to keep it on repeat and never come back.