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The Music Sounds Better: The Weeknd releases sinister second album in six months

By Julian De Ocampo ’13
THE ROUNDUP

The Weeknd – “Thursday”
7.8

When The Weeknd’s breakout mixtape, “House of Balloons,” dropped in March, it was considered an out-of-left field enigma partly because of the veil of mystery surrounding its unknown creator.

After the release of “House of Balloons,” The Weeknd was quickly lapped up as a critical darling, nabbing a Polaris Music Prize nomination and rave reviews from nearly every music publication willing to give the low-profile release the light of day.

Amidst all the hype and publicity, Toronto-based musician Abel Tesfay has stepped forward to claim his title as mastermind behind the stunning debut mixtape that courted the attention of hip-hop superstar Drake and brought him to the forefront of the R&B world.

Now, with the world watching his next move, Tesfay has chosen to release his follow-up effort, “Thursday,” for free download on his website – his personal gift to his ever-growing fanbase.

Rest assured, “Thursday” is a good album (I hesitate to call The Weeknd’s output “mixtapes” because their visions are too fully formed to be called anything less than albums) that carries all the trademarks that made “House of Balloons” a hit – the ominously dark down-tempo percussion, the surreal lyrical hedonism, and, of course, Tesfay’s remarkable R&B croon.

But “Thursday” also raises another question about “House of Balloons” in hindsight: Was it a truly great album, or was it simply a good R&B album that rode the hype machine and conquered critics with its mysterious nature?

“Thursday” suggests both; the album is roughly the same level of quality as its predecessor, and yet Tesfay, stripped of the abilities to spin tales under anonymity and toy with the listener’s suspension of disbelief, is somehow marginally less exciting. Everyone who downloads “Thursday” knows exactly what they’re getting into, and the album is all the more predictable for that reason.

Still, Tesfay’s emergence as a public figure doesn’t necessitate a decrease in quality in music – Thursday speaks volumes about the sharp increase in production ability that Tesfay has acquired since March.

The album’s biggest accomplishment is in expanding the scope of The Weeknd’s production while maintaining the distinctly sinister style that marks Tesfay’s music. Everything is simply bigger, more elaborate, and more complex, all without sacrificing the attention to atmosphere that made The Weeknd so fascinating.

“Thursday,” just like “House of Balloons,” paints The Weeknd as the lecherous, almost predatory, anti-hero of self-contained world in which depravity and hedonistic pleasure is the ultimate goal of the citizens of The Weeknd’s mind.

Drake guests on “The Zone,” where he drops a perfectly adequate verse that fits surprisingly well into the self-enclosed bubble that The Weeknd had strived so hard to create.

But other than that, this is clearly The Weeknd’s show; Tesfay’s voice and posturing is the main attraction, with the production simply complementing the storytelling process.

Ultimately, “Thursday”, is a worthy follow-up to the critically lauded oddity that “House of Balloons” has become, regardless of the shock value lost in the transition.

Tesfay may be stepping out from behind the curtain, but, if “Thursday” is any indication, The Weeknd is just beginning.

“Thursday” is available for free download now at The Weeknd’s website.

Julian De Ocampo is The Roundup’s Managing Editor of Online Content and also writes his own music blog, Faulty Fidelity.