Release Date: Mar 21, 2011
Record label: The Weeknd
Genre(s): R&B, Alternative R&B
"Trust me girl/You'll wanna be high for this," purrs a seducer near the beginning of this mysterious mix-tape debut. It's reasonable advice. A seamless, self-released concept album that set off an internet brushfire — complete with Twitter clues from evident co-conspirator Drake and Weeknd itself — it traces a woozy, debauched journey over nine slow jams that join the current conversation in hallucinatory r&b and indie rock: James Blake, Frank Ocean, jj, Salem, and Beach House.
The Weeknd’s debut album, House of Balloons, opens with a whisper. Soft R&B vocals and echoing binaural beats set the mood. Things quickly take a darker turn, and they never go back. A commanding bass synth makes itself known, the beat kicks up, and the words “don’t be scared / I’m right here / even though you don’t know / trust me girl / you wanna be high for this” sit gracefully over the now loud yet still sparse music.
By now, you’ve heard the line on the Weeknd, the alias of mysterious Toronto neo-R&B crooner Abel Tesfaye, whose free mixtape, House of Balloons, has everyone from Pitchfork to VIBE gasping for breath. Much of the discussion has centered around where to place the Weeknd in the larger conversation about contemporary R&B. House of Balloons deals in the typical tropes of the genre (sex, drugs, and druggy sex), but lifts samples from the indie world (Beach House, Siouxsie and the Banshees).
Less than two months ago, few of us had ever heard of the Weeknd. Then, as soon as the creepy R&B tracks from this free mixtape began to circulate, the hype engine revved up. There was the Drake cosign, the album art that looked like Spiritualized crossed with Tumblr art-porn, the missing vowel, the stylish samples, and the project's creators hiding in the shadows.
It’s often said that two occurrences are a coincidence but three is a trend; the idea being that the third instance ties the previous two unrelated instances together into something tangible. In the case of what no one is really calling indie R&B, the one group that pulled everything together is Canada’s The Weeknd. So what is it about this group that has caused so many journalists to shit their pants and throw up so many words about the rise of non-existent genres? Partly, it’s the indie friendly samples (Siouxsie and The Banshees, Beach House).
Pundits busy penning eulogies for progressive R&B now have a new cause célèbre thanks to Toronto's the Weeknd, aka "Lovely" Abel Tesfaye, a boyish, brooding singer who's maintaining a low profile despite blowing up the blogosphere last week with his Drake-approved debut mixtape. There's an eerie, unsettling air about House Of Balloons. The Weeknd and producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo concoct a feverish atmosphere from buzzy bass, airy and sputtering beats and dissonant chords that drift and hover like cigarette smoke.
Review Summary: Do you like sex? This is probably as close as you will get to having it tonight.The Weeknd. Is that just some hip omission of the “e” in “end”? Is it a statement on the minimalism that defines the group’s sleek R&B sound? “We don’t need that ‘e’, just as much as we don’t need you to know our real names to love us. You’re going to understand us either way,” The Weeknd seems to say.
The Weeknd arrived as if out of nowhere, with no tags or bio attached to them–a mysterious R&B group that we knew were from Toronto and, judging from Abel Tesfaye’s self-detesting, melancholic lyrics, we could assume were getting over recent heartbreak. Thanks to Toronto’s biggest sensation, Drake, who posted a few of their tracks on his OVO blog, the Weeknd exploded into the blogosphere, garnering the respect of self-indulgent hipsters, mainstream R&B fanatics, and indie kids alike. It’s rare for the r&b genre to be labeled unique or unorthodox these days, unless you’re How to Dress Well, but with the Weeknd’s debut mixtape, House of Balloons, they bring to the table the most interesting, depressing, and drug-infested R&B record in years.
Taken as mood music designed for toxic and illicit late-night situations, House of Balloons -- the debut from Toronto vocalist Abel Tesfaye, released as a free download on his Tumblr blog -- can make for absorptive listening. Joined by producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo, Zodiac, and Rainer, Tesfaye -- to lift a phrase from David Toop -- exemplifies the combination of "sugar and poison" that has powered R&B throughout its evolution. Tesfaye's voice is a gentle, bruised, and occasionally gorgeous-sounding instrument that, through sound and words, mixes based belligerence with palpable inner turmoil.
A startling debut from a young Canadian RnB artist with huge potential. Mike Diver 2011 The Weeknd is 21-year-old Toronto resident Abel Tesfaye. House of Balloons is his debut album, distributed freely online, and it’s quite unlike any other RnB collection to have emerged in 2011. Thanks to a Twitter leg-up from fellow Toronto artist Drake, Tesfaye has seen his underground tracks edge towards the mainstream, and earlier this month House of Balloons made the shortlist for the Polaris Prize, Canada’s equivalent of the Mercury.