Origin: Toronto, Ontario
Earlier this year, Toronto-based Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, gave us a surprising Spring mixtape called House of Balloons - released digitally for free - that provided some heavy R&B with slick production and some pretty undeniable beats. With said elements and a hint of mystery surrounding the release, it may have possibly been some of the best indie R&B of the last year, resulting in word-of-mouth and underground success partially in thanks to the great endorsement from recording artist Drake. Now that we are more than half-way through the year and deep into Summer, The Weeknd has released his latest mixtape called Thursday (without question, released on Thursday, Aug. 18th). Does this new mixtape match the surprise that was House of Balloons?
Let's first take both mixtapes at face value. As stated in my review of House of Balloons, its album cover is decidedly black-and-white, almost as if to lyrically be so explicit that the beats became a hard-putting behemoth of sinful bliss. Thursday is quite the opposite, featuring some kind of color spectrum and three pictures with Polaroid-like quality, and like its brother before it, elements heard on Thursday are further reflected in this imagery. Jumping right into business with "Lonely Star," the beat and key is much brighter than anything found on House of Balloons, as if maybe The Weeknd were going to approach a newer, different direction. "Life of the Party," too, feels like it might be taking what The Weeknd had to offer up before and bring it into more color and light.
Admirable, of course, but as lighter as they are, the more we see the weight of this thing. Once you reach the epic 8-minute "Gone," you might realize something feels less urgent, less applicable, and less special.
It's just as arousing as its predecessor, but it's also less immediate. It still provides the same sleek production quality and Abel taking center stage with similar lyrical themes like overpowering sex and fighting his demons, which is fine, but the idea that this particular sound is more inviting and more accessible doesn't entirely match up. This isn't really a bad thing considering there are (very) good beats found on this thing, but given what Abel has to say and what is now musically in store, I'm more appreciative towards House of Balloons being unwelcoming and a harsher affair, where his marriage of hard-hitting lyrical content and darker beats felt not only appropriate but deeply complex.
Maybe I'm comparing them too much. Maybe there are those of you who have just found Thursday and want to stick solely to this mixtape for review. Well, quite frankly, the true merits of Thursday as its own record remains to be seen on a majority of the tracks. While the beats are good as I previously stated, they often meander into slow tunes that don't really go anywhere, to the point where they may present themselves to be great for having sex to but not for everyday hearing when you're MOST LIKELY going to be listening to it. Tracks like the aforementioned "Gone" and "Thursday" just seem directionless given the stellar quality of the production, and they're just a lot more grounded on slower energy than you'd find on its predecessor. There I go again with the comparison, but can't you tell which one you might want to listen to first?
I digress. The tracks here are still better than a majority of songs being played in today's community, especially two of them. The tracks "The Zone" featuring Drake offers a nice break from The Weeknd's vocal highs and "The Birds" (Parts 1&2) is rather reminiscent of something found on House of Balloons with it's darker aplomb, which gives the listener a better sensibility about where The Weeknd might be going. It's not that the other seven tracks found on here are any less that nature, because these two mixtapes really have been somewhat of an experiment that I'm more than willing to go along with, but at least these couple of tracks offer greater qualities that will make me want to come back to them more often than not.
So the mystery and surprise has somewhat faded now that The Weeknd are making a name for themselves, and that might've helped make House of Balloons a greater affair in comparison, but that hasn't stopped Abel from continuing his line of work. Even if Thursday ends up being more of the same in more ways than one, it just means we have more of The Weeknd to go around, and that isn't a bad thing whatsoever. The excellent couple of tracks and stream-lined flow are enough to warrant a download and, while I might come off as disliking the mixtape overall, it's still better than a great percentage of music floating around these days. After all, it may just be the next addition to Abel's experiment that we hope gives R&B a run for its money on the third mixtape (reportedly out this fall), and we'll be here to listen.
The Weeknd - "The Zone" feat. Drake
The Weeknd - "The Birds Part 2"
Thursday is self-released and is available for free over at their official website.
Origin: Philadelphia, PA
Pop music artists are like landscape artists: the land is practically provided for them, but there are those that want to change things up by touching it with their unique sensibilities and then there are those that want to continue its current trend and keep things safe and quanit. Whether they feel they need to stand out from the crowd or become a different but identifiable entity of the genre, the artists that strive for the former don't have to provide such a temporal atmosphere where they rise and fall based on what is happening temporarily, as is the case for artists in the latter case. It's thankful to say that artists with those better pop sensibilities do exist, and fears can be put to rest by listening to this handful of potential from up-and-comers Viv and the Revival.
Yeah, the name "Revival" should already be your first clue. It's not so much a clever play-on-words with band leader Viv Peyrat, but it's also the intentional effort of the band to bring pop a much needed sense of lasting flavor. If the band's name wasn't just as obvious of its intention, Viv sings "I want to live forever...I'm just afraid to be forgotten," on the opener aptly titled, "Forever." But this shouldn't come off as anything to scour or scold. In fact, I would think credit is due to artists that don't beat around the bushes and rather provide a direct attack to their goal. It might be stereotypical that pop music uses such a method, but it's a trick that catches on rather quickly and works effectively, and Viv does a stand-up job. There's no denying that he has a sense of direction, too.
This six-track EP features really well-kept production values, as any considering and serious pop music should. It's not what you might call "squeaky-clean" as the band allows some rough corners with distorted guitars and tight instrumental interplay. Songs "Shook Up" and "Wonderful" provide such a gesture, with some good hooks and cranks that take Viv's vocals from standard fare to an energetic stage-like presence. Perhaps the best mixture of balance lies on "Tonight We Live As Kings," with a composition and arrangement that sidesteps away from convention and lets Viv really handle the perspective the band is thriving for. Sure, each of these songs can be considered radio-friendly, but this drives into interesting territory.
The EP does justice to the pop music genre by being the same and not being the same. It follows the landscaped formula that pop music lies on, but it does so in a way that sets Viv into a greater sense of where he wants to take it, instead of letting it take him. It's admirable, to say the least, to see artists go for the attack and be straight-forward in their direction and execution, which results in well-produced and finely knit tracks. Viv and the Revival have a solid EP on their hands with potential to hit the stride that I know they want to achieve, and it's hard to stop their force when they have the tenacity to keep on going.
Viv and the Revival - "Tonight We Live As Kings"
Viv and the Revival - "Wonderful"
You can check out Viv and the Revival and the And Then The World EP over at their official website, available via Red Goat Music.
Origin: Los Angeles, CA
Here's an album that was released last year, yet I received it this year and it feels completely fresh. Not that music has drastically changed in a year's time, but it's hard to find artists like Dale Turner these days. Amidst the infiltration of overly layered beats and innocuous teen idol drudgery blocking true musicality comes the talented singer-songwriter Turner, a multi-instrumentalist in the vein of Jon Brion who seems to find the perfect marriage of musical arrangement and composition, creating this kind of leveled harmony that your ear drums gladly give you thanks. He's clearly got a good ear for what needs to be said and performed to achieve said marriage, and his true "solo" album, Mannerisms Magnified, showcases his talent and penmanship for creating alternative music.
In reading his biography, this album took four years to produce. That's got to be a lingering amount of time to get an album out for a debuting artist, but the results are very fine tuned. This is all done by Turner himself, which is mightily impressive when you hear every stem as if it were performed in-house by performing musicians. But nope, this is Turner's field, even going as far as to engineer the album to provide exactly what he wants. If that's not talent, then I don't know what is.
And the music itself? It begins with "Brian On The Brain," which appears as an homage to Brian Wilson-esque vocal harmonies, and then it rushes fully into "Bad Seed." We're at track two and I feel as if I've started listening to the late Jeff Buckley's Grace. It's not so much the way Turner softly but effectively vocalizes, but even the intricate, mellow guitar work that so hauntingly marked "Grace" and "Last Goodbye" are apparent here. This isn't a case of an artist simply imitating Buckley, but rather showcasing his passion for such an influence. Mind you, again, this was created stem by stem, all by Turner.
Things spread out across Mannerisms Magnified to the point where - even though you may think you know where it's going - you can't easily predict its direction. To put it simply, this really is just a great set of songs over 42 minutes. Turner provides a little of everything here like slower melodies "Hiding Place" and "Five Things" and upbeat tunes such as "Morality Rule" and "Exit Wound", but he still retains an alternative sensibility throughout, always leaving behind a trail of great 90's influences like Elliott Smith and early Radiohead. It's hard to find fault here, as hearing each track is like listening to an artist so hard at work, and the work so eloquently paying off.
Mannerisms Magnified may be the perfect title to such a record that's ambitious and yet feels so close to home - yet another feat from Mr. Turner's creative abilities. It's a surprising breath of fresh air that really brings a new voice forward through the heavily impacted world of music, and for good reason. This is a calm and collected batch of alternative music that doesn't really require much other than to admire and behold, and I believe Turner is going to head into new territories once this gets the exposure it deserves.
Dale Turner - "Bad Seed"
Dale Turner - "Morality Rule"
Mannerisms Magnified is now available through CD Baby, iTunes, and Amazon via Intimate Audio.