Release Date: Sep 10, 2013
Record label: Republic / XO
Abel Tesfaye appeared to be living out his own fantasy when he popped up with three mixtapes in 2011. He was hardly earning the wage to experience the seedy, club-VIP existence described on ‘House Of Balloons’, ‘Thursday’ and ‘Echoes Of Silence’, so the dubious practices that took place within could be put down to an adopted persona. Tesfaye slotted in neatly with all the glum lads making sadface hipster R&B – Drake, Frank Ocean, How To Dress Well – but there was something murkier happening on the other side of his velvet rope.
Part of the thrill of first hearing Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye lay in his departure from R&B orthodoxy; sex and drugs feature in abundance on his early mixtapes, but largely to numb the loneliness of the songs' pitiable/ predatory narrator. The effect feels less subversive now but also distracts you less from the expansiveness and icy opulence of his music. Alongside more conventional R&B touchstones, Stevie Nicks and Portishead – from whom Belong to the World takes its beats – are acknowledged influences.
There is no album more anticipated in Canadian music than the Weeknd's. Drake's has all the buzz in the world, sure. But Drake is now an established superstar, his place as cemented as can be in popular music. But there are those waiting to see if the enigmatic Toronto figure the Weekend - aka Abel Tesfaye - has what it takes to go the distance.
Think about how some other male R&B artists might have worked with a title like "Kiss Land": in the hands of R. Kelly, perhaps it becomes his latest conceptual dramedy, an inset of the geography surveyed on “Sex Planet”. For Robin Thicke, it could serve as more proof of his insatiable need to be liked and his utter inability to look cool. Like The 20/20 Experience, the name Kiss Land brings to mind a family-friendly theme park overseen by pop music’s most tireless crowd pleaser.
The latest effort from the Weeknd is a mixed bag, but it can't be said that Abel Tesfaye is resting on his laurels. While many criticized his second two mixtapes, Thursday and Echoes of Silence, for being subpar reiterations of what he did so perfectly on House of Balloons, Kiss Land is anything but a retread. Clear-eyed album opener "Professional" heralds an album almost entirely free from the shadows and reverb that made Tesfaye an enigmatic overnight sensation, as he reaches beyond cult fame for the real thing.
If it weren't for those gimp-mask wearing scamps Slipknot, it would be a fair claim to make that The Weeknd is the most anonymous act to ever headline Wembley Arena. Not that Abel Tesfaye has been playing the shy retiring type – there he is, staring out from Kiss Land’s cover in a way that’s either meant to be soulful or a bit smug, and which seems a long way away from the impeccable design of those mix-tapes that got everybody talking - but just to look at him reveals an odd sense of cognitive dissonance, that the brain can’t quite handle that this stocky, unremarkable looking bloke has been responsible for so many songs of pant-quiveringly sensuous mellifluousness over the past few years. After all the chatter about the quality of that voice, and more specifically just how uncannily it sounded like MJ in his prime, died down a bit, focus tended to shift towards the content of Tesfaye's lyrics.
Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one before. Canadian artist gains increased notoriety after having his music showcased on various blogs, releases a few critically acclaimed mixtapes and subsequently signs a major label deal while inadvertently challenging stereotypes of masculinity and class division. In this case, the artist in question would be Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye—Drake’s quasi-protégé and, for better or worse, a sort of R&B equivalent to Hip Hop’s self-proclaimed “Champagne Papi.” While sharing Drake’s story of rising through the ranks of urban music’s blogosphere, Weeknd is actually cast more from the mold of Chris Brown and The-Dream.
Abel Tesfaye is an R&B singer ? which is to say, he?s a proprietor of a genre at least somewhat image-dependent, if we’re to believe there’s any significance in all the sensual dancing and bare, well-oiled torsos plastering so many of the genre’s iconic album covers. So, despite his original intentions to skirt the less desirable attendant aspects of success by remaining borderline anonymous, Tesfaye has since come out of the woodwork, his first interview finally arriving just a couple of months ago. On Kiss Land ? Tesfaye?s first for-real LP as The Weeknd, even though its preceding ?mixtapes? (House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence) were three of 2011?s best-sounding full-lengths ? the Toronto resident comes into focus clearer than ever, occasionally sounding as though he’s ready to chase the superstardom achieved by his idols R.
Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, finds himself in the rather strange situation of enjoying huge life changing success without actually releasing a proper record. Tesfaye’s 2011 series of mixtapes as The Weeknd established him as something of an RnB auteur, specialising in highly atmospheric and intimate spooked soul. Trilogy, released late last year, collected those mixes into something that could loosely be described as a debut album; however, as a conventional recording artist, Kiss Land is Tesfaye’s major label debut proper.
Platinum sales, touring life, and radio presence -- the last of which was due more to guest spots on Drake's "Crew Love" and Wiz Khalifa's "Remember You" than his own singles -- granted Abel Tesfaye a fresh set of fraught experiences and anxieties. As he laments/boasts in the eight-minute slow-motion horror suite that is this album's title track, "I got a brand new place/I think I've seen it twice all year," and visits to his doctor have provided access to new ingredients for his indulgences. Indeed, this is a post-fame album.
Abel Tesfaye specializes in spacey R&B songs where he sounds sad about things that would make most people happy (having sex, going to parties, hanging with friends). So you can imagine how bummed Tesfaye is now that he tours the world and has a major-label contract. Kiss Land follows in the lethargic steps of 2012's Trilogy, but the pace is slower, songwriting thinner and vision more bloodshot.
Abel Tesfaye makes his major-label debut following a trilogy of self-released albums, and as before, this is glossy neo-soul and cloud rap, with the weed smoke replaced by a sigh into a bowl of cocaine. He doesn't so much gaze at his navel as have a stare-out contest with it, and it's often repellent, especially on the spectacularly boring and sexist title track ("Close your mouth, I just want to hear your body talk"). Killer hooks might transform his singular subject, "the loneliness of filling every need", into a perversely seductive portrait of ennui, but Tesfaye has always been a middling songwriter.
In 2011, The Weeknd, the moniker of 23-year-old Canadian singer Abel Tesfaye, emerged shrouded in a carefully cultivated aura of mystique. As he released his debut trilogy of mixtapes in 2011 (the three tapes have since been packaged and released as Trilogy last year), Tesfaye refused to give any interviews and even barely allowed his face to appear in promotional materials, his visage seemingly always obscured by smoke or shadows. Although he now claims that this was merely the manifestation of his own camera shyness, it’s impossible to deny that these tactics were integral in stirring up a still-churning hype storm that has brought Tesfaye critical acclaim and a slew of high-profile collaborations.
Icy and distant, the Weeknd's first three mixtapes made valuable tweaks to familiar R&B formulas, pushing the genre's debauchery to dissipated levels, locating a kernel of deficiency and self-loathing in sex-fueled narratives of abuse and abandon. Yet another disciple of Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak aesthetic, singer-producer Abel Tesfaye turned usual notions of virility upside down, with sexual fantasies that served as confirmation of internal deadness rather than hot-blooded mastery. So it's no surprise that Tesfaye's newfound success, rather than giving him occasion to boast or celebrate, makes him sound even more miserable.
If The Weeknd’s “Kiss Land” were an amusement park it would be dubbed the unhappiest place on earth. The official major label studio debut from the Canadian singer-songwriter, born Abel Tesfaye, chronicles disconnected lives numbed from drugs, meaningless sex, and loneliness. Subversively, he’s still able to make the disaffection sound seductive.
It’s difficult to believe over two years have passed since Abel Tesfaye made his first on-record appearance as Weeknd. The 23-year-old R&B upstart has had a dramatic rise from internet oddity to, as he states on the title track here, “Seeing the whole world in just twelve months.” That’s not bad for a guy just breaking into his twenties. In 2011, Tesfaye self-released three mixtapes, the first of which, House Of Balloons, was a lyrically depraved document of the pitfalls of his life in Toronto.
opinion byJEAN-LUC MARSH It is difficult to reconcile the notion that The Weeknd was once a shadowy, anonymous songbird dropping mixtapes like bombs of debauched perfection from a cold perch in the Great White North. The indeterminate entity behind the music only added to the allure, endowing the tense, minimalist music with an extra dimension, and lending credibility to the tales of alcohol, drugs, and womanizing by attributing them to a narrator without a concrete identity. We, as the audience were left to decide who The Weeknd was, and the result was someone dredged up from the darkest corners of our imagination.
On the cover of the Weeknd's new record, "Kiss Land," singer Abel Tesfaye stares back with his face cocked upward. For a guy who spent 2011 (the year of his three free online albums) hiding his identity from the media, it's a profound about-face. That look signals a new vulnerability for the Toronto experimental R&B singer on this remarkable album. He once hid behind a scrim of anonymous sex, drugs and emotional bleakness.
Unpredictable and inventive, hyperactive and marked by an unending procession of textural digressions, percussive whim and electronic experiments, Kiss Land offers a veritable production bonanza. A bold and extremely necessary departure from the musically prosaic torch songs prevalent in the latter stages of Trilogy, Abel Tesfaye’s major label debut proper is a sprawling cornucopia of tricks – a blitzkrieg fantasia as devised by a musician more interested in sounds than music, and a crop of tunes launched from the restless mind of a burgeoning auteur hooked on the thrill of discovery. Kiss Land sounds downright gorgeous: a pristinely mastered headphone listener’s dream with a marbled quality, but sensual like lush suede – a production sheen at once otherworldly and urbane in its stylish futurism.
Abel Tesfaye, heart cold as tundra, sings with intense moral authority about deep immorality. He’s got an urgent, high voice that he deploys with nuclear force and focus on songs about the numbing effects of drugs and sex. For him, all love is vampiric, all women are unworthy of trust, all nights are to be squeezed to the last drop. Near the end of “Professional,” the opening song on “Kiss Land,” his major-label debut album, he turns directly to the stripper he’s serenading cum psychoanalyzing and asks: “How’d you drain all the soul from your eyes?/How’d you teach, teach yourself how to smile?” He has never sounded more tender.
Though we’ve had a plethora of vital soul/R&B acts over the past few years, none quite reach the zenith that Abel Tesfaye lives on. His triad of EPs, which eventually conjoined for The Weeknd’s first ‘album’, Trilogy, received almost unanimous applause. As such, it’s with much anticipation that his debut proper, Kiss Land, arrives. Where Trilogy also dealt with the Cronenburgian parties that Tesfaye laments, there, he did it with a subtlety.