Thursday 15 November 2012

The Weeknd - Trilogy

Releasing music for free might be a quick way of garnering attention, but it’s not necessarily a route to success.  Yet last year both Frank Ocean and Abel Tesfaye (aka The Weeknd) released free mixtapes to critical acclaim and have gone on, in 2012, to release two of the most stylistically important albums of the year.

‘Trilogy’, a re-release collection of last year’s three free mixtapes, marks the first major label release from Tesfaye, who signed to Universal earlier in the year.  So far, he’s managed to remain a faceless artist and let his music do the talking, releasing music solely under his pseudonym and refusing interviews.  Even if you haven’t heard of him, his influence has been huge.  His melancholic, futuristic RnB has influenced the likes of fellow Canadian Drake (who features on The Zone – ‘Thursday’ - and collaborated with Tesfaye on his own track Crew Love), Usher (Climax especially) and the parallels with Frank Ocean are clear.  For anyone who missed his material the first time round, this re-release may undermine his position as innovator, but there’s no better time to catch up.

As is typical for the genre, the often misogynistic lyrics are full of references to sex, prostitution, infidelity, smoking and drugs.  “Baby get familiar with the order”, he explains on Initiation (‘Echoes of Silence’), “just crack it, then pour it, then sip slow, then tip low”.  The lyrics are frequently grim, as Tesfaye revels in downbeat melancholia, such as The Knowing’s “I know what you did / I know / So I’mma let you taste her / I ain’t washing my sins”.  There’s a definite progression though, from the salacious parties of ‘House of Balloons’ (The Morning’s “From the morning to the evening, complaints from the tenants / Got the walls kickin’ like they six months pregnant”), to the self-destructive descent of ‘Echoes of Silence’ (“I see the way your body moves, on the pole, on the floor, you’re alone / But there ain’t nothing I can do / So keep dancin’ baby” he sings on Next, paralleling Ocean’s Pyramids).  Tesfaye’s songs may be destructive and angry, but they’re never disgusting; sexy without resorting to sleaze.  It maintains an air of intrigue, coupled with his sweet falsetto that woos and haunts in equal measure.  He is, vocally, the reincarnation of Michael Jackson, which can be heard most acutely on D.D (‘Echoes of Silence’) – a cover of Dirty Diana.  The lyrics may seem tame but the sentiment fits in perfectly.

It’s the nocturnal production that has proven most influential, however.  Complex layers of synth hooks, staggering beats and soaring vocals are standard, for an expansive sound that is at times overwhelming.  And with an average track length around the five minute mark, ‘Trilogy’ is as epic in length as it is in scope – this truly is Tesfaye’s opus and the future of RnB.

It’s important to note that ‘Trilogy’ is essentially three albums in one and a complete overload of rich material.  Listening to it all in one sitting may well cause your head to implode – individually it’s easier to process and allows you to see the progression from one to the next.  Together, the three albums encompass a full career in miniscule – from the acclaimed debut breakthrough (‘House of Balloons’), to the ‘difficult second album’ (‘Thursday’) and the celebrated return to form (‘Echoes of Silence’).  ‘House of Balloons’ is certainly the most individual of the three, owing largely to its frequent use of samples.  Together with the Dirty Diana cover, it may imply that Tesfaye is more comfortable utilising the material of others, but his overall innovation and originality cannot be denied.  ‘Thursday’ is less distinct, collecting in a swampy mire, whilst ‘Echoes of Silence’ is a slower, more meditative take on the usual themes.  Each album also includes a new track – Twenty Eight, Valerie and Till Dawn (Here Comes The Sun) - that fit in with the overarching style.

‘Trilogy’ succeeds for its overall mood and originality.  Undoubtedly, this major release will bring Tesfaye’s music to the ears of the masses.  With such a huge creative output in just a year and plenty of features and collaborations in the works, let’s hope he hasn’t peaked too early.


Gizzle's Choice:
* The Knowing
* The Zone
* D.D

Listen: 'Trilogy' is available now.