There are some artists who are hard to admire. Not necessarily because their music is lacking or inconsistent, but rather because of the artists themselves. They choose to be enigmatic, shrouded personalities that are difficult to follow.
Lil Uzi Vert teased “Eternal Atake” for the longest time with hot and cold posts, even amid rumors of his retirement. Lady Gaga had left fans lost and confused until “Chromatica”. Frank Ocean is tucked away somewhere, distant like always, though an album is on the way. Playboi Carti has delayed his sophomore album, “Whole Lotta Red” more times than I can count on my fingers. The artists that keep fans hanging on with every Twitter like and with every Instagram story posted, are the ones that are most difficult to follow, but with good reason. For me, there’s one artist that blows all of these out of the water.
Over the past 24 months, there has been an Abel Tesfaye, also known as The Weeknd, shaped hole in my heart. Two years have passed since The Weeknd released a studio length project. His last EP, “My Dear Melancholy,” was released in March 2018. Nearly four years have passed since he released his third album, “Starboy.”
In a drought of new content, I kept his albums on repeat. I retweeted his obscure words and announcements. I made my friends listen to his songs in the car. I listened to Memento Mori on Beats 1. I unfollowed Bella Hadid on Instagram. I followed her again. I watched The Safdie Brothers’ film “Uncut Gems” twice and snuck into the theater once to get a glimpse of 2012 Abel. I even saw Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (1982) (which I found really boring) to understand “Kiss Land” more.
On Feb. 13, we got an album title: “After Hours.” On Feb. 19, we got a release date, March 20. I put it down in my calendar, planning to listen with some friends. Due to COVID-19 and social distancing reasons, my plans shifted to live-texting a handful of other Abel fans instead.
Abel Tesfaye’s fourth studio album “After Hours” is a sinful, synthy, psychotic descent into his after hours of the night. Tesfaye sings of love, lust, loneliness and everything in between. It’s cathartic in a way; reminiscent of his old mixtapes but with new twists and modern influences met in “Starboy” and “My Dear Melancholy.” It’s been nine years since his song “Heaven or Las Vegas” on his “Thursday” mixtape. In “After Hours,” The Weeknd makes it clear he chose Sin City.
With songwriting credits from longtime collaborators DaHeala, Illangelo and Belly and production from Metro Boomin, Tame Impala and Oneohtrix Point Never, “After Hours” is a collection of songs in which the quality of lyrics match the impressive production. The lyrics are as downhearted as the instrumentals are upbeat. This juxtaposition is seen in somber standout tracks “Faith,” “Hardest To Love,” “In Your Eyes” and “Save Your Tears.”
The opening track “Alone Again” sets the tone for the rest of the songs to follow. Utilizing gleaming, calculated beats and scene-setting lyrics, Tesfaye puts his listeners in Vegas. The second part of “Alone Again” consists of conflicting, daunting synths and echoed vocals that resemble something of a refined slasher film. “After Hours” is very cinematic, and I wouldn’t put it past Tesfaye, a movie buff, to be influenced by film works. The album title even shares the same name as Martin Scorsese’s 1985 film, “After Hours.” Tesfaye’s music videos have included visual parallels to films such as Scorsese’s “Casino” and Todd Philips’ “Joker.”
“Uncut Gems” score producer Oneohtrix Point Never is credited on songs “Scared To Live,” “Repeat After Me” and “Until I Bleed Out.” Though he’s only credited on three songs his influence is heard on songs “Hardest To Love” and “Snowchild,” as they share the spacey, twinkling synths. More information can be found here.
Tesfaye reminisces on simpler lifestyles and briefly condemns LA culture and fame in songs “Snowchild” and “Escape From LA.” These two songs are chock-full of references to movies, celebrity rappers and authors such as Philip K. Dick, Constantine and Patrick Swayze. Tesfaye even borrows flows and lyrical parallels from his previous songs “Sidewalks,” “The Morning” and “Tell Your Friends” on “Snowchild” and “Escape From LA.”
Tesfaye takes a turn from his usual drug-induced material and hedonistic habits on “Faith.” Produced by Metro Boomin, “Faith” is a self-aware ballad exhibiting the highs and lows of a self-indulgent drug-fueled lifestyle, distinguished through two parts of the song. The production on this track is among one of the best on the album, along with the interlude “Repeat After Me,” produced by Australian artist Kevin Parker, widely known as Tame Impala.
After teasing new music over Instagram live, on March 29, Tesfaye released a second deluxe album with three bonus tracks in addition to the five (very subpar) remixes. The three songs (“Nothing Compares,” “Missed You,” “Final Lullaby”) were decent, but Nothing Compares was the only one I could see competing with any of the fourteen on the original tracklist. “Missed You” lacked solid lyrics and was repetitive, though I thoroughly enjoyed it, while “Final Lullaby” was the weakest of the lot, with weird instrumentals and robotic-like vocal effects.
From the immaculate opening track (“Alone Again”) to the dizzy, orchestra-like finale (“Until I Bleed Out”), “After Hours” is a woozy trip into the after-hours of the night. Though there were some misses, there was not a single song that was as bad as “Starboy.” “After Hours” is an admirable listen front to back, even including the three bonus tracks. The cinematic influences and layers to the lyrics and production of this album add depth behind each track, making “After Hours” an enthralling listening experience.
Edited by George Frey | firstname.lastname@example.org