Review/Listen: The Weeknd – Trilogy

Over a year and a half after releasing the first installment of the Trilogy mixtapes, The Weeknd has appeared several times on Drake’s well-loved Take Care, attracted droves of fans to a widely anticipated performance at Coachella, toured with Florence and The Machine, and even hung out with Diddy and Ciara. Still, Abel Tesfaye has remained absurdly quiet and, even after all that, is only offering his first official interview with BBC at the end of this month. Tesfaye is in a uniquely advantageous position where his lack of explicit exposure has not only played heavily in his favor but establishes credibility to the content of his music.

In March of 2011, House of Balloons quietly appeared on the internet, offering nine tracks of refreshing R&B that weren’t highly saturated by auto-tune or mindless chorus repetition. As the first installment of Trilogy, House of Balloons proves why his music is meant for fans of Beach House’s romantic ambiance and the inherent sadness of 90’s era R&B queen Aaliyah. Additionally, Tesfaye sampled, and named the mixtape after, a Siouxsie and the Banshees track and, amidst the vastness of his work, immediately solidified his vacant, drug-addled, loveless intimacy that became the keystone to his incomparable style. House of Balloons topped year-end lists and garnered wide-scale success as a resurgence of R&B for a new generation, tentatively labeled PBR&B.

Though less tonally consistent, Thursday added more variety to Tesfaye’s sound. The stomping percussion on “Life Of The Party” creates terse clarity for The Weeknd, as if someone sporadically flipped the lights on in whichever darkened nightclub Tesfaye is singing from. Tesfaye’s veil is lifted enough for us to at least learn his name, see his face, and hear him explore sounds outside of his contingent of melancholic lust. When this mixtape released, Drake’s surprise appearance on The Zone made perfect sense since both artists are woman-crazy Torontonians with an affinity for smoothly crooning explicitly shallow lyrics. Drake’s guest verse also signaled Tesfaye’s ever-growing popularity and pointed to only larger, greater projects on the horizon.

The final chapter of Trilogy is a product of Tesfaye learning from missteps and indirectly responding to a much wider audience. Echoes Of Silence starts with a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana,” which might sound like an insurmountable error pointing towards himself as a conceited artist. However, Tesfaye answers critics’ comparisons between Jackson and himself by blatantly taking one of his hits and making it his own. In a way, Echoes of Silence combines the selective anonymity of House of Balloons and the slick, experimental production value of Thursday, forming a perfect hybrid of R&B sensibility without feeling completely lost in Tesfaye’s broken, self-indulgent ramblings.

At the end of “Same Old Song,” Three 6 Mafia founder, Juicy J, hops on the track just to riff bullshit, yelling absurdities like “Listen to that shit, man. The Weeknd’s music make ladies’ panties get wet” and revealing his plan to spend thirty thousand dollars at a strip-club. But this contribution is almost counterintuitive because calling attention to the mysticism of The Weeknd’s gravitational pull slightly negates it, most listeners understand the sexual implications of Tesfaye’s music. Juicy acting so unabashedly celebratory about it makes him seem like an obnoxious friend. But, to a larger point, Tesfaye’s reached a level where he doesn’t even have to address his own haters, he has a weirdly relevant hip-hop icon to do it for him. If having Juicy J screaming his signature “Shut the fuck up!” on your track isn’t a sign that you’ve made it, I don’t know what is.

Tesfaye’s inclusion of three bonus tracks is uncharacteristically generous, even in this age of free downloads and name-your-own-price offers. “Till Dawn (Here Comes The Sun)” finds Tesfaye falling back into his schtick as a sexually exploited artist, somehow seeming more mature by more formulaic songwriting, and “Valerie” falls along similar lines but ultimately showcases a more powerful delivery. “Twenty Eight” diverts from that trend, giving Tesfaye a platform to call out an unfaithful, manipulative lover. But, hey, double standards never sounded so pitch-perfect. Trilogy feels completed by the bonus material, solidifying Tesfaye’s massive release as an example of personal transformation, artistic self-discovery, and reaching success on his own merit.

When The Weekend  started to gain momentum, anonymity was key. Everything about him seemed slightly out of focus, his music centered around fleeting promiscuity and hazy drug use. Tesfaye’s obscurity allowed rumors about The Weeknd to swell. First, nobody was clear how many people were involved and, once the shroud was pulled back far enough to see a solo artist, if we’d ever see Tefaye’s face. Now, after the release of several music videos, Tesfaye seems less mysterious. His silence is outweighed by simply being in the public eye, starting to work with high profile artists like Lady Gaga, and an overactive Twitter account. Trilogy is Tesfaye’s thesis on redefining a genre by putting forth thoughtful and unique chapters of a story too large for a single album.

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