New Review // The Weeknd – House of Balloons
I freely admit this isn’t the best thing I’ve ever done, but it’s a really good album if you’re into that sort of thing. (I am into that sort of thing.) Download free from the group’s website.
The debut release from Toronto R&B act The Weeknd is a free mixtape rather than an album yet it still sounds complete, writes Dave Donnelly.
While half the music industry – the half that has just about staggered gracelessly into the 21st Century – continues to struggle with the concept of ‘free’, an elusive Toronto R&B act is the latest in a growing group of artists to find their artistic and commercial niche making their music available for download gratis.
Strictly speaking, the debut record from The Weeknd (pronounced “weakened”) is a mixtape, not an album – the difference being that a mixtape contains uncleared samples. Mixtapes have been a part of hip hop forever, so nothing revolutionary there, but it’s rare that a debut gets so much attention so quickly (it was released less than a week ago), and rarer still that it sounds so complete.
What separates House of Balloons from most contemporary R&B is its appeal (or lack thereof) to the most primal instinct. Put simply: it ain’t all about fuckin’. Or, to be more precise, it’s not about the conventional beautiful people fucking that you see in music videos – it’s about the awkward, self-conscious fucking the rest of us engage in. You know, indie people fucking.
When it’s not, it’s commenting disapprovingly on the sleazy sex industry that pervades much of the music industry – and not in a positive fashion.
Sonically, House of Balloons is not a million miles from Kanye West’s visionary 2007 album 808s & Heartbreak, though its looser structure and spacious chilled electronic arrangements put it closer to James Blake and last year’s indie breakout How to Dress Well.
While those artists are all primarily producers who can sing a bit (or not, in Kanye’s case), Tesfaye is a genuinely outstanding singer – one of the best you’ll hear all year – and he croons all the way through nine lengthy tracks.
House of Balloons is by no means a perfect record. It can be dull at times, some of the songs are a couple of minutes too long and, lyrically at least, it’s a little too self-aware and full of itself to fully lose yourself in. For a first effort, though, it’s an exciting and invigorating record and a really good signpost of what’s to come.