SXSW coverage may have been dominated by Frank Ocean’s Odd Future project but there’s been another revolution happening in the world of R&B. Last weekend The Weeknd unleashed their 9 track mixtape ‘House Of Balloons’ on their Tumblr.
It was shrouded in mystery (was The Weeknd a collective, a band or a solo singer?) and divided opinion. The Village Voice called the mixtape “patient, often gorgeous”, under a headline titled “R&B’s Future Shock”, while a less than impressed Guardian said that “only a fool could think it was the most exciting thing to happen to R&B in 2011”.
So what’s the truth?
Well a couple of listens to ‘House Of Balloons’ and it’s clear that the work (which was later to be unveiled as Abel Tesfaye and producers Doc McKinney and illangelo) is a work of haunted brilliance, in any genre.
While no one could mistake’s these 9 slow jams or Tesfaye’s velvet croon for anything but R&B, it’s The Weeknd’s subtle subversion takes this to the next level. In a genre where bravado sometimes overshadows reality, ‘House Of Balloons’ is as whip smart as it is authentic.
Ripping the plastic film off R&B’s loverman persona, The Weeknd litter their tales of late night love with references to drug abuse, all nighters and backstreet sex. It’s subtle yet shocking at the same time. Take ‘Wicked Games’. “Bring your body baby/ I could bring you fame,” Tesfaye trills; sounding less like Trey Songz and more like Joe Pesci’s sinister lech from Casino.
The scene is set for a casting-couch style power struggle, before Tesfaye begs, “Tell me you love me/Even though you don’t love me,” as track lurches to its miserable conclusion, his tragic desperation finally revealed like the unveiling of a masked killer.
While in ‘The Party & The After Party’ he sings: “I’ve got a brand new girl call her Rudolf/ She’ll probably OD before I show her to mama.” R&B is rarely this unfiltered and honest. I mean, could you imagine R.Kelly singing these crack house-alluding lines?
That The Weeknd rip this all to a soundtrack that’s part SALEM’s hazy glow and part anti-Chiddy Bang (samples of Siouxsie And The Banshees and Beach House are prominent), add to their refreshing, dangerous vibe. Indeed, Pitchfork compared the album’s sinister veener to The xx’s debut (just take a look at that album cover!).
‘House Of Balloons’- something to get very excited about.