File The Weeknd beside Frank Ocean as an RnB star set to climb to new heights in 2012.
Mike Diver 2011
Earlier this year, Canadian singer The Weeknd (aka Abel Tesfay) became a ‘net sensation when his House of Balloons mixtape attracted the support of rapper Drake and highly positive reviews across the music press – stateside site Pitchfork compared its spectral qualities to The xx’s Mercury-winning debut. At the time of writing, it’s on the shortlist for the Polaris Prize, essentially the Canadian Mercury Prize. But rather than simply reaping the rewards of his blogosphere breakthrough, Tesfay has pressed on with the second of a proposed trio of mixtapes in 2011; on the schedule for later this year is part three, Echoes of Silence. Thursday again captures the artist amid woozy RnB bumpers and skeletal soul backgrounds, plus a couple of raucous almost-rockers, but perhaps lacks the sparkle that made House of Balloons so immediately satisfying.
Thursday racked up 180,000 (free) downloads on its first day online (a Thursday, naturally) – a remarkable achievement for an artist who’s still an underground attraction. But wider audiences are evidently beckoning, as here he’s joined by early supporter Drake on The Zone. Admittedly it’s something of a tacked-on guest turn, but nevertheless: the Thank Me Later star’s presence is sure to alert many more admirers to Tesfay’s cause. What’s missing, though, is the same level of instant appeal that certain first-collection numbers possessed – the closest this set comes to immediate impact is on The Birds Part 1, a drums-heavy centrepiece which finds our protagonist at his fullest of voice, and guitars-at-11 offering Life of the Party. But perhaps this set is closer to the true Tesfay, as recognisable samples (Beach House and Siouxsie and the Banshees last time) are exchanged for wholly original compositions – of the nine tracks only one, The Birds Part 2, leans on a prior arrangement for support: Martina Topley-Bird’s Sandpaper Kisses. Closer Heaven or Las Vegas strays from familiar waters, a reggae lilt lending the piece unexpected buoyancy.
Overall, Thursday isn’t the sequel to House of Balloons that some might have been hoping for – but it does make for a very worthy companion, more a flip to its forerunner’s side A than an entirely separate collection. It’s a great mood piece, and Tesfay’s frail vocals are oddly affecting when compared to the usual hip hop approach of uncompromising braggadocio. Some may find his effects-laden style grating, but the same could be said of anyone from Kanye West to Madonna. And, on the evidence presented so far, few would say with certainty that Tesfay couldn’t one day attain a comparable level of commercial success. File him beside Frank Ocean as an RnB star set to climb to new heights in 2012.