Chances are you’ve either heard the Weeknd is the greatest thing to happen to R&B since the “Single Ladies” dance, or you don’t even know who he is.
If you haven’t heard of the Weeknd (real name Abel Tesfay), it might have something to do with the fact that his self-released debut was released only a week ago. Prior to that, he had a handful of songs floating around YouTube.
But ever since the Weeknd’s House of Balloons appeared as a free online download, his music has gathered the kind of media attention publicists usually offer blood sacrifices for: Fellow Canadian Drake has repeatedly Tweeted lyrics and linked to the mixtape, and an ensuing flurry of positive reviews tore through the online blogging community, including an 8.5 rating from tastemaker Pitchfork.
Listen to the slightly NSFW “Wicked Games” after the jump:
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But the exasperated dismissal of this mixtape by a British paper is probably the best thing that has happened to the Weeknd so far. Seriously. After all, it’s complimentary for the Village Voice to lump you in with Odd Future affiliate Frank Ocean and claim that “In the last two days, R&B changed again,” but the Guardian’s decree that “Only a fool could think the Weeknd the most exciting thing to happen to R&B in 2011” is even better.
With a media dichotomy like that, you can’t help but wonder whether he’s a savior or a charlatan, and before long you want to listen to the music so you can decide for yourself (especially since its free).
With that divisiveness in mind, the House of Balloons mixtape is a bit underwhelming. It’s too enjoyable to dismiss, but hardly innovative enough to justify all the attention. For something being hyped as a “return” to the genre’s roots, the album sounds surprisingly similar to ((hmm…) Drake’s Thank Me Later, at least sonically. Song structure-wise, he hasn’t quite mastered the craft like his Canuck colleague.
So why can’t blogs stop raving about this? Well, it does boast one thing indie kids love more than a clearance sale on Converse—samples of bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Beach House. And unlike most major R&B albums, it maintains a consistent tone—all nine songs bring to mind illicit lovers driving through empty streets at four in the morning, making no bathroom breaks for sing-along choruses or club beats.
But then again, let’s not forget that before his major-label debut, Drake was more adventurous. There’s no reason to think that once the Weeknd get major label deal, he’ll scale back the dark atmospherics and opt for a more polished sound (which the mixtape’s latter half seems to suggest).
So before we declare the Weeknd to be the new voice of R&B—or before we crucify him for the hyperbole of others—let’s just listen to the debut and enjoy it for what it is: a promising debut that manages to grow on you once you push the hype to the side.
What do you think of it? Could he be the next Drake or The-Dream? Or is he just one talented musician in a pool of many?
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