The Weeknd House Of Balloons(Self Released) Buy it from Insound
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. It has an undeniable feeling of foreboding, and immediately distinguishes itself from other R&B.
The album's sound isn’t incredibly innovative, though its use of samples is intriguing. Beach House makes a few appearances, and Glass Table Girls is a rework of Siouxie and the Banshees' Happy House. Reverb often blanches the samples, making them nearly unrecognizable at times. Songs that once seemed bright now seem fit for nighttime. Happy House is given new life by a strong, pulsating bassline and lyrics even more foreboding than its source material.
The command of mood is incredible, leaving the listener with an uncomfortable sense that something is about to go wrong. The record is filled with tales of late-night sexual and drug escapades, morning after depression and darkly troubled relationships. Even while the more typical themes (sex, hard drugs and clubs) are bragged about, one gets the sense that they’re leaving singer Abel Tesfaye hollow and unhappy. He enjoys them in the moment, but he’s going through the motions. When he allows us to see underneath it, as he does on Wicked Games, singing “I left my girl back home / I don’t love her no more / but she’ll never fucking know that”, it’s undeniably heartbreaking. He sells it, and it’s impossible not to feel it like he does. He also has the capacity for absolute filth. House of Balloons is very, very NC-17. Loft Music and Glass Table Girls are both album highlights and contain incredibly explicit lyrics. In both songs, it’s not necessarily the graphic sexual depictions that make it uncomfortable; it’s the context they occur in. Women voluntarily drugging themselves to be taken advantage of, throwing happiness away for substance-fueled encounters, and Tesfaye taking away from it initial satisfaction but long term depression.
He’s playing a young man who has been told this is the good life, that this is as good as it gets. He wants more, but he doesn’t know more exists. He’s trapped in a life others dream about, and doesn’t know what to do but go through the motions. He’s doing the best he can in a world he doesn’t know how to escape. By the time the excellent closer The Knowing rolls around, it’s the sound of a broken man. It’s depressing, but incredibly powerful and too intriguing to do anything but play it again.
When it’s all said and done, Tesfaye has presided over a mind bending, drug induced tour through an underground world of debauchery that only leaves him hollow. He commands the mood better than artists who have been in the game for years and yet this his first release. He’s got three more planned for this year, something he’s calling an “ultimate trilogy.” He’s already made one opus, and I’m almost sure he has two more in him.11 June, 2011 - 16:20 — Andrew Baer