Pitchfork: Best New Music
Abel Tesfaye, aka the Weeknd, released three free mixtapes, aka albums, in 2011. Trilogy compiles them with remastered sound and adds three new songs. Supported by fellow Toronto native Drake, Tesfaye surfaced that March with House of Balloons, an impressive debut that merged his paradoxical approach -- sweet voice, poisonous words -- with gloomy but entrancing productions, most of which were provided by Illangelo and Doc McKinney. The duo produced the entirety of Thursday, released that August. It offered minor variations on the debut's themes of getting laid and high through plodding, thudding scenes of bleak malevolence. Anyone not magnetized to extended periods of intense wallowing and/or chemically-induced lethargy -- or the idea of experiencing either one of the two states -- could discern that Tesfaye could have used an editor. And then, in December, just after Drake released Take Care, an album featuring a handful of Tesfaye collaborations, Echoes of Silence completed the Weeknd trilogy in an equally excessive fashion. Emboldened by critical acclaim and an enthusiastic fan base, Tesfaye led the set, produced mostly by Illangelo, with a cover of "Dirty Diana," Michael Jackson's unintentionally comical groupie nightmare. Tesfaye not only matched the original's intensity but went so over the top with it that the top was no longer visible. He also continued to find slightly different, occasionally peculiar ways of expressing unapologetically sordid feelings about drugs, partying, drugs, bad girls, drugs, strippers, drugs, good girls gone bad, and drugs -- all of which serve an identical purpose and get the same level of consideration, though "Put that rum down, you don't wanna die tonight" is at least somewhat thoughtful. There are points throughout these works where Tesfaye is distinctively gripping, supplying deadly hooks and somehow singing for his life despite the cold blood flowing through his veins. More often, he needs restraint, as he is prone to repetitious whining that is more young boy than young Keith Sweat. (Check "Same Old Song," 20 percent of which features Tesfaye singing "You're the same old song," over and over, with the final "o" held for several seconds.) Now that he's with a label, he'll hopefully get some kind of filter that enables him to fulfill the promise heard in these 160 minutes of one-dimensional, occasionally exhilarating overindulgence. When this package was released, he was gaining mainstream momentum with appearances on Drake's "Crew Love" and Wiz Khalifa's "Remember You." His potential is as obvious as his lyrics are toxic.
© Andy Kellman /TiVo