The Weeknd is one of those artists that seemingly came out of nowhere and in the blink of an eye was running the blogosphere. And in this particular case, I think that anything less would have been a crime. The Weeknd's sparse, creeping "What You Need" is a great intro to the artist, twenty year old Abel Tesfaye. The song sounds at first like it's gonna be a post-Burial dubstep ballad, but turns into something more along the lines of Drake's oeuvre. Indeed, The Weeknd and the current prince of pop rap are buddies! Which makes sense, because Tesfaye takes many of Drake's hallmarks and elevates them to the next level. House of Balloons is full of moody explorations of young wealth and love (or rather, a staggering lackthereof). All of Tesfaye's come-ons have an element of darkness to them- he's a much badder boy than Drake. And a better singer!
The production here too reaches heights that are largely unprecedented in R&B. The Siouxsie & the Banshees sampling title track feels as deliriously high as it intends to be, "The Morning" is dreamy and decadent, and "Coming Down" feels in mood and texture like a genuine heir to Timbaland's late-90s R&B perfection. Much of it reads as a continuation of the style that Drake's in-house producer 40 has been nourishing the past few years, a passing of the baton. It retains the airy futuristic synths of 40's work, but with a discernible affection toward the past (as Tesfaye moans the refrain "bring the 707 out" toward the end of "Glass Table Girls," referencing the old school drum machine prevalent throughout the mixtape). "Wicked Games" is an anthemic reverbed out dirge that sounds like it could have snuggled up brilliantly between En Vogue and Tevin Campbell on the soundtrack for some movie that probably has a mid-twenties Vivica Fox in it*. It feels uncannily like appreciating the entirety of the last 30 years of soul music at once.
Oh, except with a higher than normal amount of (possibly self-aware?) post-modern dread and decadence. Did I say decadent yet? This mixtape is decadent as fuck.
*and at least one cast member of A Different World