Abe Beame didn’t even need to make a Chris Isaak joke.
Abel Tesfaye and Jeremy Rose are an indie rock-influenced R&B outfit from Toronto who call themselves The Weeknd. If this wasn’t bad enough, they’ve just released an obnoxiously promoted demo called House of Balloons. Yes, for those under the impression they’re listening to a fully formed mixtape, this is a demo. Two young men searching for a sound and wearing influence on their sleeves, channeling everyone from Maxwell and Aaliyah to Jodeci, Montell Jordan, and The Dream. Sonically, producer Jeremy Rose suggests bits of minimalist Timbaland, MGMT and even dubstep artists I’d never be able to identify.
But what makes The Weeknd worth writing about isn’t who they sing like or sound like, but what Tesfaye has to say. The Weeknd’s music is higher on E.Q. than I.Q., a relatively shocking development in a genre that has been ruled for the last decade by metaphor-heavy, detail-happy smarty pants’ like Neyo and dumbasses like Chris Brown. The Weeknd’s demo is rife with drug use, profanity, borderline misogynist shit talk and general anti-heroism. This is The Dark Knight for the “106 & Park” set.
On the tape’s show stopper “Wicked Games,” The Weeknd end their séance and in the process, deliver a wholly unique vision. It’s my pick for the most riveting (and maybe only), unapologetic R&B ballad about selfishness ever made. Tesfaye opens by telling us he’s dumped his girl from home without the courtesy of notice. He follows this tossed off remark by instructing some on the road conquest to strip in the most direct manner possible. But it isn’t necessarily a rote, misogynistic exercise. As he violates every shred of decency imaginable, he comes off as weirdly vulnerable, and in doing so makes the first piece of music that can be described as definitively post-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. A self-aware song that acknowledges its evil and revels in it, without bothering to excuse said behavior. It’s weird, disturbing, recognizable in it’s honesty, and feels eerily like the future.
ZIP: The Weeknd-“House of Balloons”