Wednesday, 30 March 2011

House of Balloons // The Weeknd // (Self-Released)

"bring the drugs baby, i can bring the pain"

The Weeknd has made a meteoric impact on the indie scene, perhaps the greatest any RnB artist has made in 'proper' music circles (rather than say, pop). Half of interest is of course causd by the fact that it is interesting people who would normally shy away from RnB, and soon enough any music that gets caught up in this whirlpool of hype is devoid of any criticism of the actual sounds. So sure, with any paradoxically popular artist like The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye), there are going to be accusations of bloggers and listeners following the crowd, unthinkingly obsessing over whatever Pitchfork doth proclaim Best New Music. A half-assed listen of House of Balloons and you may be able to write it off as nothing dissimilar to anything hitting the top 40 (that is to say: vacuous, unorignal), but there is a load more here, enough to inspire the hype in the first place.

House of Balloons isn't exactly without precedent, last years How to Dress Well croonings are probably the closest in terms of style. Certainly there is a trend for more RnB influences in underground music, but these a generally aesthitical touches from disparate sources, nothing has been so unapolagetically RnB indebted and yet so deftly produced whilst not intended for the club. Where typical Club music espouses simple, often facile lyricisms about sex and alcahol, petty platitudes to be half-ignored on drunken dancefloors, House of Balloons flips this on its' head. As well as these overusd themes, club music also attempts to glamourise the act of clubbing itself, as we see most clearly in the music videos of pristine club floors, sexy people and tonnes of dollar bills. Abel constructs an almost noire element to his lyrics, taking the illusions portrayed as fact in the RnB aesthetic, a kind of new pan-atlantic aspirational dream, and exposes the cavernous dark other side. This is why the album works so well, as typical RnB is taken as a starting point, but is torn apart in a heart-wrenching anti-parody. That is, instead of taking the vacuous lyircs and lampooning them, he tighten them and injects them with his own club jaded emotions and experiences, to create something that sounds so similar, but so scarily different from its forebears.

Moving on from the lyrical themes, the album has an sparse and minimalist musical backdrop to carry the lyrics. The beats are slow and heavy, creating a gigantic swagger that the vocals sound uneasily confident riding upon. There are also a tonne of samples and clever synth licks, that satelite the singing, which of course takes center stage. Abels voice sounds slightly anonymous and generically RnB in some verses, but this serves to highlight the irony of his words, and he can throw his voice around with agile ease. Title track House of Balloons / Glass Tables best emphasises the vast void between the two modes he intertwines on this record, the first half being crooning, plantive, before diving into a bassy, sparse, even slightly angry groove, propelled by a simple beat and eerie, twisted synth that could almost come from dubstep.

The album is very difficult to get a grip on entirely, the intrumentation and his voice are both sleek and slippery. The record both shows distain of cliche RnB whilst absolutely celebrates some of the aesthetics of the genre. It stands on its own as a chilling, heartbroken record, inhabiting and exposing the dark regions of a hedonism and clubbing, never entirely commiting to one particular overall feeling, Abel rightly cannot entirely come to terms with the music that has so infected his (as well as our) conciousness.

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