Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, better known as 2020k’s vote for one of the most unique and refreshing artists to produce R&B music in the last couple of years, finds himself working exclusively with Doc McKinney (Esthero, Res) and Illangelo and submerging himself into deeper, darker, and more experimental atmospherics on his sophomore mixtape, Thursday.
Thursday carries forth the depression that it’s predecessor House of Balloons proudly displayed, and continues it’s downward spiral by remaining true to the signature subjects of sex, drugs, alcohol, and despair, but creates it’s own progressive niche by replacing the catchy melodies that songs like “The Morning” & “House of Balloons – Glass Table Girls” offered, with lyrics that sound more like a stream of consciousness, transcribed and morphed into R&B phrases. It’s only “The Birds Part 1” and “Lonely Star” that carry the strongest inklings of a strong and traditional hook, with all of the other songs relying on the mood of the track to carry Tesfaye’s melancholy crooning.
Mood is a central theme of any work The Weeknd has released thus far, and it’s become a stronger standpoint on Thursday. Strong rhythmic presence combines with electronic ambiance on the majority of the tracks, with the title track “Thursday” being the lead example of how this contrast in sonics work as well as they do. Bass, kick, snare, and supportive rhythmic samples are the main focus throughout the song, with a secondary focus on vocals.
What’s most interesting about this record is that the vocals are usually not the main focus in most of the songs. They’re compressed heavily sometimes, there’s some very nice, long reverb settings, delays, and layers to them, but if you listen to the first two tracks, it’s apparent that the vocals are shoved a bit further back in the mix to give balance and equal representation to all aspects of the music, which is a technique used more in rock music than in R&B. It’s a refreshing approach, but takes a few listens to get used to, especially on the album’s opener,”Lonely Star,” because even though it has the most pop/standard R&B influence on it, it remains experimentally obscure sounding because of the lack of extreme vocal presence that friendly melodies are normally associated with. …But, “I love the guitars!”
Yes, it’s true. The guitars are nice, especially on the second song, “Life of the Party”, that literally sounds like something you’d hear in a madhouse. There’s a nice synth that appears on every and of the beat that gives the track a warped reggae tone, combined with pop, electronic, rock, ambient, and R&B tones. It’s another one of the catchier tracks on the record, but in terms of the musical production on it.
Where the musical production and composition really gets into it’s zone though, is on the appropriately titled “The Zone.” Bass samples are manipulated to give a nice pulsing melody that helps drive the track and has an underlying synth pad underneath it that gives the track an odd Vespertine-Bjork-esque macro Electronic, minimalist production quality before the percussion kicks in to drive the urban vibe. Drake sounds super nice on the track as well and it’s a nice surprise to hear his voice on the track, especially given the push he’s give Abel since his debut a few months ago. “The Birds Part 1” also demonstrates a very nice musical composition, with it’s kick your fucking face in snare drum production and rolls and is the highlight of the album for 2020k.
But, it’s the sample of a girl hysterically crying that opens up “The Birds Part 2” and the sample of the extremely gut wrenching song “Sandpaper Kisses” by Martina Topley-Bird off her debut record Quixotic (UK)/Anything (US) that gives the album’s most emotional and shocking moments of the record. It’s raw emotion, captured, sampled, manipulated, placed into a Weeknd track, and is the most intense track Thursday offers to us. Basically, don’t fall in love with a nigga like The Weeknd. This is what he’s been trying to tell us track after track after track.
“Sandpaper kisses, papercut bliss Don’t know what this is, but it all leads to this: You’re gonna leave Her. You have deceived Her. Just a girl.” Click here to listen to the original track by Martina! (Who has collaborated with Trip-Hop artist Tricky and more lately, Massive Attack, who we’ve written about before).
Thursday is a fantastic display of growth from The Weeknd and it hasn’t even been half a year since the release of House of Balloons. We have one more release coming in fall/winter from him, and there’s no doubt we’re sitting on the edge of our seats, wondering how this mixtape trilogy is going to end. 2020k also commemorates The Weeknd and co. for giving their music away for free through their official website. It’s a bold move, but a smart one in the 21st century of the recording industry. You can download Thursday by clicking here.
Album review: 4/5