For the record: Ready for The Weeknd

Music columnist Meghan LeVota on The Weeknd’s ‘Kiss Land’

By Meghan LeVota | Sept. 24, 2013

Tags: Music

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I must admit, I thought my hip-hop/R&B phase was over in middle school. Been there, done that, right?

It took me a little bit to get on board with The Weeknd, mostly because I was content with not branching out and just listening to my own hipster shit all day long. But once I finally did — boy, have things improved since 2007.

Canadian recording artist Abel Tesfaye is revolutionizing the way we look at R&B. Growing up listening to soul, funk, indie rock and post-punk, Tesfaye’s music displays a variety of influences. This singer/songwriter got his start on YouTube, uploading several songs under the stage name The Weeknd, with his identity initially unknown.

After the release of critically acclaimed online mixtapes House of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes of Silence, Tesfaye began to attract further attention. He produced the mastered compilation album Trilogy, which included all previous work plus three new songs.

Tesfaye is the kind of guy who prefers to let his music do the talking, as he has rarely done an interview and remained anonymous until 2012.

“I spent my entire life on one setting,” Tesfaye said in a statement released to MTV. “That's probably why pieces of the album (Trilogy) feel like one long track, because that's what my life felt like. It felt like one long song.”

Though previously low-profile, Tesfaye uses the experience of touring and fame as inspiration for his first studio album Kiss Land.

Kiss Land is the story after Trilogy,” Tesfaye said to MTV. “It's pretty much the second chapter of my life. The narrative takes place after my first flight; it's very foreign, very Asian-inspired. When people ask me 'Why Japan?' I simply tell them it's the furthest I've ever been from home. It really is a different planet.”

This Asian theme is evident in Tesfaye’s music videos, especially in “Belong to the World,” where the first two minutes and 30 seconds are spoken Japanese.

The album begins with a trippy combination of jazzy strings, dreamy synth and eerie vocals, making listeners wonder if they were actually listening to an R&B album. “Professional” eases listeners in to the essence of Kiss Love, as it takes three minutes to get into the groove of the song. Tesfaye’s smooth voice professes love for a complicated relationship. The song takes a turn as we hear a female voice, “I love, you love / This love / We’re professional,” giving the alternate perspective.

One of my personal favorites, “Love In the Sky,” sets a jazzy tone, featuring obscure, circular drum patterns. Tesfaye demonstrates his breathtaking falsetto, “This world’s not for us / It’s not what it seems / We’ll learn to love how to dream.” Not all of the lyrics on this track are actually that profound; Tesfaye has a knack for singing graphic, sexual lyrics in a stunning way, in which listeners find themselves singing along before they even realize what they are saying.

The crowd favorite, “Live For,” which features popular rapper Drake, is a song you will certainly be hearing at all the house parties this school year. The song begins with a simple acoustic melody and pure vocals, yet develops quickly into a catchy dance beat. “Live For” features a wide variety of drums: ethnic bongos paired with hip-hop-inspired bass drum and handclaps.

Other notables include the spine-chilling “Kiss Land,” which samples screaming sounds throughout the beginning of the beat. I’m not sure if it was Tesfaye’s intention to get his listeners in the mood, but his voice can definitely seduce. Tesfaye remarkably shifts the mood by the end of the seven-minute track, to where it sounds like a completely different song.

“Pretty” is also a super fun song to sing along to, and it implements the same dreamy, Asian themes. The ladies will swoon at the hook: “And he can’t make you feel this pretty / And he won’t make you feel this beautiful.”

The Weeknd will truly stand the test of time. With exceptional vocal talent, and innovative musical style, Tesfaye will no doubt serve as inspiration to many in the years to come.

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