The Internet is filled with unchecked possibility. People like Abel from Toronto who, having grown up in the nineties, reflect or result from the sounds they experienced. Artists like Abel don’t need to struggle with demos and major labels- putting a site together and distributing the music free can showcase the music as you really want it to be.
So Abel becomes Weeknd, and Weeknd becomes a sweeping sensation, getting reviewers and fans across the world excited for a genre they thought passed away with Aaliyah, or died in court with R Kelly.
House Of Balloons has to be thought of as the nightmarish warning to the music it celebrates, what Drake would do if he were brave enough to do it. At first, it might sound like parody on tracks where he uses terms like “Shawty” and “Bout it Bout it”, and it might make you wonder if this is a Lonely Island skit. It’s not.
“High for This” is the first track on the tape, and it is probably going to be the opening theme to Entourage or How to Make it in America. It gives you those precious solemn seconds before the beat drops and then -BOOM!- the bass, the heart of the song, thumps behind his voice. The first lyric is “you don’t know what’s in store/ but you know what you in for.” Nothing could be truer. This is the same bass heart that thumped behind Aaliyah along with the other annoying effects thrown in at Timbaland’s behest, that same nineties sound, but spun. Along with a catchy hook that subdues you, he croons “you got to be high for this”. Why would he tell the woman he is about to have sex with she NEEDS to be high for it? It’s only the beginning; the lyrics on this tape can get beyond dark. The cover is a woman in a bathtub with balloons falling on her naked body. This is that nineties story made into A Clockwork Orange.
The hooks try to tell you the story, but the production is so dense with pops and tings and bass when his voice hits the bridge that you might miss it. “What You Need” is a perfect illustration of the horror hidden underneath the murky, but pleasant, foreground. Part of the hook is “I’m the drug in your vein/ just fight through the pain” Drugs are a part of every song; it’s the development of a tragic character getting sick to death on what he thinks is fun. This point is masterfully weaved into every song. In “Glass Table” for instance, he is imitating someone reminiscing about him and reflects “I heard he do drugs now…” then follows with his response “you heard wrong I been on ‘em for a minute.”
The hook for ”Wicked Games” is “Bring your love baby I can bring my shame/ Bring the drugs baby I can bring my pain/ I got my heart right here/ my scars right here.” “The Party” turns into “The After Party” with creepy whispering female voices beckoning the main character. “The After Party” features some moments where the singing crosses into rapping, and rapping is not what is good about the Weeknd.
Ultimately, there are two moments that give this mixtape its persona. “Loft Music” with its chanting voices and dynamic kick take place before his first line “You see my brain melted…” drops. It is not even faintly romantic, not even complete thoughts, just shards of moments that scare you beautifully. The second is when the “The Party” ends and “The After Party” begins. The bass takes the song over, and the warm charming seduction of “The Party” is gone. Near the end he says “Got a brand new girl call it Rudolph, she probably OD before I show her to mama. All these girls trying to tell me she got no love, all these girls never got a blowjob.”
Make no mistake that these lyrics are not braggadocio. They are lessons to be learned, or die for not having learned. It’s the reason it feels like A Clockwork Orange: even when you can clearly see the message, the method is so flashy and gorgeous it’s hard to learn.
Its nine songs feel complete. The tape is not too long or too short, and it’s a concept knocked completely out of the park. “Coming Down” is stunning, and a track like”Morning” gets better the more you listen to it. That being said, it’s so evil under the surface you might need a break from it to find parts of life with sunshine and sobriety.
While House Of Balloons painted vivid details of dark realistic situations, the follow up Thursday is much more in Drake’s Wheelhouse. “Lonely Star” includes Abel crooning his ability to buy his women cars- a stark contrast from the feel in House Of Balloons. The point is that he is now a conflicted star searching for love, thus entering the “Drake Zone”, and bringing with him the same sex joke state of mind. “Life of the Party” sounds good enough to be on House Of Balloons, but not a featured track. Even the two part “Birds” should feel much more impressive then it is. This mixtape is not a failure, and does not take away from House Of Balloons, and in fact does the opposite. It amplifies what House Of Balloons did well, while Thursday was “dropped” House Of Balloons was slowly birthed. its bitter sharpness gets sweeter by comparison to Thursday’s safe swooning.
You can find both mixtapes at The Weeknd’s website.