Music is one of the most intimate things to experience and few artists of today have managed to make it as intimate as The Weeknd has done so far. To most of us, his name evokes disturbing sounds and explicit content on sex and drugs: what makes it special isn’t only the articulation of his lines but the atmosphere which he carries along his falsetto voice. Trilogy, the ensemble composed from his three previous mixtapes, was built on multiple blurry dimensions – from the different echoes, slow beats, sudden guitar riffs, ultrasounds and other effects which our ears couldn’t properly identify.
The rhythm and the blues of his songs travel beyond the realm of R&B to reach other genres such as Trip-Hop, as suggested by his multiple and elective samples. His voice has been compared to the uniqueness of Michael Jackson’s, yet his vibrating and plaintive tone reminds me more of what could be called a musical thriller. When I envision myself lecturing my kids on artists of my generation, I’m always confused with what I should say about The Weeknd. I guess it is because I haven’t really figure out whether his songs are meant to make us long for romance or awake or sentimental schizophrenia.
Grown out of two years of experience and touring, Abel Tesfaye has returned with his debut album titled Kiss Land for the sake of our languishing moments so ladies and gentlemen, brace your inebriated selves. These days, the news of a debut studio album is always welcomed with both enthusiasm and doubt by critiques and fans. However for an artist like The Weeknd, who has been tagged as mysterious for his habit of avoiding any media attention and keeping himself on the low, this album comes as more than a simple musical challenge to him: it’s also challenging his attitude as an artist. Interestingly, the title of his album, Kiss Land and its cover, have suggested that the artist is ready for partial disclosure.
The first hearing of the album has left me a bit confused as far as whether or not The Weeknd was trying to sound less gloomy as what we’d become accustomed to. Kiss Land stands to me either as a reinvestigation of his art through a different perspective or the presentation of an unexplored dimension of his genius. Yes, he’s given up on a few sound effects and focused on richer structure for the instrumentals, which results in his voice being intentionally more audible.
His voice also appears as less shivering, he has either gained confidence or now seeks to express his emotions through the words rather than through his tone. Overall, it feels as though the dialogue is different: when listening to The Weeknd, I remember being given the impression of witnessing his own intimate thoughts. In Kiss Land, the lyrics are not as self-reflective but rather seem directed at someone else. However, the recurring themes of drugs, suffering and women are still here, standing as pillars of his inspiration.
He also has managed to keep his own secrecy and the opening track “Professional”, confirms that he is still dealing with the same devils, only maybe in a new fashion. When interviewed about his album, he himself declared, “when I think about Kiss Land, I think about a terrifying place. It’s a place I’ve never been to before that I’m very unfamiliar with. (…) That’s what Kiss Land is to me, an environment that’s just honest fear. I don’t know who I am right now and I’m doing all these outlandish things in these settings that I’m not familiar with. To me, it’s the most terrifying thing ever. So when you hear the screams in the record and you hear all these horror references and you feel scared, listen to the music because I want you to feel what I’m feeling. Kiss Land is like a horror movie.”.
I did not feel the same amount of enjoyable anxiety that I felt the first time I played House of Balloons, perhaps the previous comment had conditioned me into listening to something creepier. I think the album is only scarier for him as it represents a new exposure of his identity. As a whole, I believe the enthusiasm was justified, Kiss Land confirms the talent of the 23-year old Canadian singer although the transitions could have been a bit more properly designed. I had also expected more distinguishable album singles and collaborations, the next album maybe?
Here are three tracks which constitute the centerpiece of the album:
“Belong To The World” has already caught the attention of most critics, as it is Kiss Land’s second single. The alleged sample of Portishead’s “Machine Gun” and the impression of sirens, sets a raging, if not violent background. The song’s theme and the singing strike as being out of place with the instrumentals – how angry can you be for falling in love with the wrong person? This song sounds personal and presents a new character in his voice, which he intends to make clearer and louder, especially through the chorus.
“Belong To The World”:
The next track is “Live For“, the album’s first single in which fellow Toronto rapper and collaborator Drake accompanies the falsetto singer. The transition between the two tracks, which sit side by side on the album, is quite poor and made me hope that the structure of the album was different, going from a war sounding track to the a ‘High-For-This’ type of gloomy ambiance was quite disturbing. It sounds like a brief encounter between The Weeknd from Kiss Land to the one from the Trilogy and therefore adds confusion as to whether or not Kiss Land is a sequence or a new chapter in The Weeknd’s oeuvre. The accelerated rhythm in the chorus breaks the entire mood of the song in the most unconventional manner and this may leave some of you disappointed. If that’s the case, remember that The Weeknd’s music was never designed for the sake of strict coherence in the first place.
I believe I must like keeping the best track for the end because on Kiss Land, “Wanderlust” is my favorite pick. It has the flavor of Michael Jackson and somehow reminds me of the groove on Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”. Finally, a song by The Weeknd that will make you grin and move all day. To give a fair comparison, “Wanderlust” is like the “Pyramids” of Kiss Land. Its retro beat marries the high-pitched chorus that will easily get stuck in your head. I especially appreciated the fact that the song had nothing to do with what we’ve ever heard from The Weeknd. Somehow, I believe that more tracks like these would have made Kiss Land even better. Last but not least, I highly recommends Pharrell’s remix, definitely a “precious little diamond” for your ears.
The Weeknd’s Kiss Land is out NOW on iTunes via Republic/XO Recordings.