These days, the music industry moves incredibly quickly. As internet use makes discovering unsigned talent even easier, listeners swiftly move from one artist to the next in search of the next big thing.
In 2011, that next big thing was The Weeknd, a.k.a Canada’s Abel Tesfaye. Off the back of three inventive albums released for free online, Tesfaye cut a mysterious figure representing a unique futuristic R&B sound. Fast forward to 2013 and, having been signed by Universal Republic who promptly rereleased his albums as ‘Trilogy’ last year, Tesfaye is now releasing a fresh album of new material: ‘Kiss Land’. It's an album that explores life on the road, whilst retaining his preference for highly explicit content.
Yet it feels like Tesfaye is the victim of the industry and the major label recording room, his sound already permeating into the work of other artists. ‘Kiss Land’ already feels familiar, the only development being a slick layer of polish that smooths over what made his previous work so memorable. There’s a lack of bass in the mixing, a lack of grit in the production, and a lack of soul. This partly stems from his vocal – more and more it feels like his cooing falsetto is simply a Michael Jackson impersonation (especially on The Town), rather than the raw yearning we heard on ‘Trilogy’. It’s not helped, however, by production that lacks the same creative spark as in the past – there are no interesting samples and few melodic hooks, just endlessly lengthy songs whose distinct sections could easily be trimmed.
What remains is a dreamy musical underworld that certainly highlights Tesfaye’s acute sense for mood and drama. Opener Professional slowly unfurls with its sumptuous mix of glittering electronics and strings; the bridge of The Town suddenly breaks into a pulsing synth riff like a shock to the heart; the conclusion of Love In The Sky strips the production down to an incredibly sultry bassline; whilst Belong To The World is characterised by shuddering machine-gun beats. The overall sound of ‘Kiss Land’ remains as alluring as ever: R&B and hip-hop morphing together to form something dark, sombre, haunting. Wanderlust, later, sees Tesfaye moving towards dance territory with a track that’s certainly more radio-friendly than the seedy, x-rated lyrics of much of ‘Trilogy’.
Yet not even the appearance of Drake can inject the invention we’ve come to expect from Tesfaye. A talented artist, ‘Kiss Land’ is still a solid album – it’s just lacking what made him such an intriguing figure in the first place, what made us so excited by that initial discovery: mystery.
* Love In The Sky
* Belong To The World
Listen: 'Kiss Land' is available now.