ARTIST The Weeknd
ALBUM Kiss Land
LABEL Republic / XO
RELEASE DATE 10.9.2013
9.2 | 10
Abel Tesfaye’s ascent to music stardom began not because of any promotional gimmick or some affiliation with another group. Out of nowhere, Tesfaye, under The Weeknd moniker, released the stunning House of Balloons mixtape, falling somewhere between Drake and David Fincher. The hypnotic R&B sound of the record, mixed with Tesfaye’s gut-wrenching, graphic lyrics launched him to the point where Drake was endorsing the mixtape on Twitter. After his prolific 2011 (he also released the very good Echoes of Silence and Thursday that year), The Weeknd has returned with Kiss Land, perhaps his bleakest, most definitely his sleakest, record yet.
The Weeknd has always succeeded by holding its cards close to its chest, never showing its full hand before it’s necessary. The one-two punch that opens Kiss Land, “The Professional” and “The Town,” aren’t the most obvious album openers, with their sprawling run times being a challenging way to introduce this new material. But like his previous output, these two tracks have a way of sinking into your psyche with only the slightest bit of acknowledgment. “Adaptation” follows, and is a heartfelt confession from Tesfaye about trading in his past life of anonymity for his new, very public life. “I think I lost the only piece that kept it all in place,” he sings, unassuredly. That unsettling feeling of knowing something is missing, but not knowing exactly what that thing is, lends more anxiety to The Weeknd’s already troubled worldview.
Vocally, Tesfaye has never sounded stronger. His cover of “Dirty Diana” from his Echoes Of Silence mixtape acts as a moment of foreshadowing in the context of Kiss Land, as Tesfaye, on more than one occasion, channels his inner Michael Jackson to immediate success. In fact, the excellent “Wanderlust” finds him in full on MJ-mode during the chorus when he sings of his “precious little diamond.” Over a chugging, synthetic beat reminiscent of Glass Candy/Chromatics, Tesfaye delivers a stadium-sized chorus that is the farthest removed from his introverted previous output than he’s ever gone before.
“I got a brand new place, I think I’ve seen it twice all year,” sings The Weeknd on the title track. While that statement would be a boastful proclamation for many artists, coming from the voice of Tesfaye turns that claim into a depressing, uncomfortable plea. The Weeknd’s glass-half-empty philosophy has been on full display since House Of Balloons, yet it’s on Kiss Land where it becomes the most heartbreaking. His previous output was masked by a cloak of anonymity, with music being discreetly self-released into the dark corners of the internet. Now that The Weeknd is on a major label, with Tesfaye’s face front-and-center on the album’s cover art, shining a light on a man once shrouded in darkness, our worst fears have become realized. You can certainly take a man out of the darkness, but it’s much harder to take the darkness out of the man.