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Album Review: The Weeknd – Kiss Land

The Weeknd KisslandSome might debate as to whether The Weeknd’s new album is his second or his fourth album, as his last disc release was comprised of three mix tapes of course already acquired by his die-hard fans, which had been subtly remastered under the one disc name of TrilogyKiss Land therefore, is a pretty exciting moment to hear the (long awaited) fresh material from The Weeknd aka Canadian born singer Abel Tesfaye. Since Trilogy, Tesfaye has retained his core group of fans whilst undoubtedly picking up new followers along the way due to internet buzz and various collaborations going on in the background with the likes of Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J. The interesting point to note however, is that although his fan base is slowly growing and he is starting to become less camera shy, Tesfaye’s name is still relatively unheard of to those not in the inner depths of the r’n’b and online music world. His aim is not necessarily chart success which is something still greatly respected by his fans across the globe.

A punchy album of twelve tracks, Kiss Land as a whole retains the unbelievable production that we are used to whilst providing us with a noticeably new atmosphere – imagine you are driving through an empty city at night and this is exactly the music you’d be listening to. We were exposed on past tracks to sultry, sexual tension with lyrical references to Canada, partying, girls and drugs, yet now on tour and presumably immersed within a heavy travel schedule, we become part of Tesfaye’s struggle to determine whether he can depend upon his own emotions out in the world alone. There is no doubting that Kiss Land has hundreds of references to the above indulgences, but there now seems to be an apparent vulnerability within his voice. The opening track ‘Professional’ includes lyrics to illustrate as such, “But what’s somebody in a nobody town, so you’re somebody new”. Melodically it’s a track which draws you further and further in; a hypnotic chillout track with increased tension whereby the beat switches half way in and then you know, The Weeknd has returned.

‘The Town’ continues with similar atmospheric movements, however what comes next in the form of ‘Adaptation’ is one of the stronger tracks of the album, made up of distinct vocal harmonies and crescendos – inspired vocally as an artist by the likes of Prince, R. Kelly and Michael Jackson – the track provides honesty throughout ‘I lay my head on a thousand beds, it’s been a test to see how far a man can go without himself’. Still questioning the path he has chosen for himself, Tesfaye is in no denial of the actions he has made, but highlights his regrets with ‘I let it go, for a little fun, I made a trade, gave away our days for a little fame’. Certainly in comparison to other Kiss Land tracks, the lead single ‘Belong To The World’ is pumped full of hooks, perhaps thought of as a safe bet by Universal records if there is going to be the continued introduction of Tesfaye into the commercial music world. Controversially however, online chatter has noted a sample from Portishead’s ‘Machine Gun’ was used without their permission – although this has been strongly denied by Tesfaye’s camp. And there we were thinking that Tesfaye was publicity shy.

‘Live For’ featuring fellow Canadian Drake, is another collaboration for the duo. Surprisingly Tesfaye’s lyrics divulge the hip hop nature that many people associate with Drake, Kanye and Jay-Z, toasting the clique and champagne life. ‘I’m in my city in the summer… spend whatever come in, f*** an income, me and my n****s we ain’t never going broke’. This marks the subtle introduction of his ego in relation to living the ‘high life’ and the influences that are now upon him in the form of his fellow artists who commercially, are hugely successful. Kavinsky and Pharrell continue the contributions on the album with ‘Odd look’ and ‘Wanderlust – (Pharell remix)’ respectively; but the true closing track is ‘Tears in the rain’ and with nearly 8 minutes of track, Tesfaye continues to prove he can still impress for a lengthy duration. Vocals discuss how he let love slip away but that he will continue to satisfy the new stage in his life of picking up love along the way – and we all know in what form that will be taken in. Ending on ‘it’s so sad it had to be this, she forgot the good things about me, she let it slip away, away, away‘ when ironically its Tesfaye who has moved away and left a lot of his good qualities behind for the sake of his career.

The previous mixtapes of The Weeknd heavily entertained sins lacking morals of any consequences. Kiss Land now questions the point where Tesfaye is now at in his life, the choices he has made, and whether he would rather be back in his home town rather than having traded it in for the ‘fame game’ which has left him alone and somewhat more vulnerable – despite of course the continued abundance of strippers and drugs. A great attraction to his previous music on Trilogy was his ego, his confidence yet now we have to adapt to his regrets, questions and uncertainty. Indeed he was recently quoted saying “Kiss Land is like a horror movie…I don’t know who I am right now”. There doesn’t ever seem to be a point reached of complete satisfaction or happiness, so the question remains, what will ultimately satisfy The Weeknd?

On a musical note, Tesfaye experiments hugely with his vocal range and technically he is continuing to layer his vocals amongst pain and emotion audibly heard within the falsetto tones of his voice. Nonetheless, it is evident that more money is being thrown at this record than past efforts, and that unfortunately seems to ever so slightly degrade the overall result of the audio due to a large amount of synthesizers and robotic percussion. On past attempts Tesfaye’s vocals would carry the track through with fantastic background production, and now for the most part we are listening on one side to the vocals and another side the audio and on some tracks the harmony between the two is lacking. Though credit must be given where due, and the album certainly does stick to The Weeknd’s formula of rhythmic beats and seductive, shadowy crescendos. The only wish now is to further enforce the mystery of the singer and to ward off advice from all record label executives, as Tesfaye started off at his peak pretty much off his own back and now anything different from that could be viewed as a downward step.New 8-5

‘Kiss Land’ is out now on XO
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Buy ‘Kiss Land’ from Rough Trade or iTunes

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