Hypnotic, soulful beats paired with an unmistakably haunting voice that melodically whispers poetic verses infused with cynicism and self-loathing. This can be no other than The Weeknd. In his first major-label release under Universal Republic Records, Kiss Land, he sticks to the themes that gained him much critical acclaim from his previous works: losing yourself within the dangerous world of alcohol and drugs.
Known for his high, chilling vocals, he expands his range in his latest record to registers untraveled, backing them up with intricate arrangements that raise the hair on your arms and darken any sun within a fifty-three-mile radius. Abel Tesfaye, the man behind the Weeknd, has remained true to who he is despite the mainstream success he has quickly gained over the past year, but the difficulties of such add in an extra layer to his deep, core-cutting songs.
The lead-off track, “Professional," starts us off on a path familiar to us with an even more familiar main character: a stripper. As Tesfaye sings about being a “somebody in a nobody town” and what it means “when your heart’s already numb," these depressing words strike at us as if it were the first time he sang about this issue of the lifeless nature of sex. Yet this topic is highly reminiscent of near all songs from Trilogy, his previously released mixtapes compiled and re-released by Republic in 2012.
But here it is taken to another level as a vocals are layered and a technical finesse is applied to the background chorus of strings that ring loud towards the end of the song, leaving the listener with an unforgettable impression. Clearly this numbing life of fame isn’t all happiness and sunshine.
He doesn’t simply expose the very important supporting cast of strippers, prostitutes, and the women he dominates in “Pretty”, “Adaptation”, “Belong to the World”, and “Love in the Sky”, but he also exposes the lonely downside to rising so quickly in the industry. On the titular track, “Kiss Land”, he reveals how he “went from staring at the same four walls for 21 years to seeing the whole world in 12 months” and this has taken time away from the new place he just acquired.
Continuing the recent themes of his life as he’s been traveling on the road, “The Town” tells of a love that’s been lost due to his fast-paced lifestyle. He begins with a surprisingly warm dedication to the woman who’s gone but quickly gets to the heart of the matter: “I haven't been around the town in a long while / I apologize”. As the song progresses, it seems to be a turn around as he sings “Well baby girl it's over now / And you can always count on me”, but by the end of the song, Tesfaye has returned to the core of the song: “You made me feel so good / Before I left on the road”.
His other songs carry a similar enticing, yet equally disturbing, sound that compliments the dusky mid-tempo pace with the exception of his most commercial of tracks, “Wanderlust feat. Pharrell”. With a significantly faster groove, it has a strong Michael Jackson feel that has you thinking that maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to smile and dance to one of Tesfaye’s songs.
Keeping with the semi-upbeat tone, one of the singles “Live for” features his fellow Canadian artist and friend, Drake, who introduces a little more liveliness into the mix. The song near imitates the themes of ‘crew love’ from their first collaboration and perfectly combines Tesfaye’s dark R&B with Drake’s fluid, fast-paced rap. And with the line “this the sh*t that I live for, with the people I die for,” one can only imagine how popular this track may be. And how many filtered-Instagram/Twitter pics it’ll caption.
Bundling up the album, “Tears in the Rain”, everything collides into one massive outpouring of confessions and advice. He sings to the listener that they should “Embrace all that come / And die with a smile / Don't show the world how alone you've become”, exposing his own thoughts in the process. With his velvet vocals, he flips back and forth between self-loathing, “I deserve to be by myself”, and bitter regret, “It's so sad it had to be this / She forgot the good things about me / She let it slip away, away, away”, while keeping the listener on point and in-tune for his inner struggles.
Working through the dramatic, mature album takes a lot more energy than imagined. His unnervingly depressing, yet strikingly revealing lyrics roll so smoothly off his tongue, it frightens you with its addictive appeal. Once you listen to one, you have to listen to them all, and as Marisa Maneri (‘16) ever so rightly put it, “Even if it’s kind of dark, I can listen to it any time of day.”