Abel Tesfaye’s audacious stage persona The Weeknd has defined the 2010s, and he knows it. A repertoire of irresistible vocal hooks, searing synths and bold lyrics tied together by his unmistakeable, smooth vocals only equates to sensational success, as proven by Beauty Behind the Madness being 2015’s most streamed album on Spotify. But how to do you top Can’t Feel My Face? Tesfaye’s solution: stick to what you know, exemplified in the churning out of 18 innovative pop numbers on Starboy: an autobiography tracing the whirlwind life of a hazy, provocative powerhouse.
I say ’18 pop numbers’, however his conventionality as a pop artist is dubious. He tells us in Reminder that he’s “not a teen choice” in response to Beauty Behind the Madness’s nominations – it seems mainstream pop is not Tesfaye’s ideal direction. At first glance you may be tempted to disagree, as Daft Punk put their popular electronic gloss over eponymous opener Starboy, putting into motion the trinity of high-impact tracks, serving as peepholes into the celebrity lifestyle. Starboy is a moody yet feisty single, triggering an array of tracks deliberating his indulgent lifestyle, but also the fragility of fame. The discreet backdrop to Tesfaye’s almost emotionless voice is a fantastic statement of carelessness, making the message of the track all the more terse. From this rises Party Monster. His opening declaration “I’m good, I’m good, I’m great” is uncertain, almost depressive, as it spirals into a cycle of women and parties. The constrained drum and bass instrumental is almost sinister, and enforces the idea this Party Monster takes on a dark, grave character. An instrumental revival takes place on False Alarm. The song is an up-tempo number, with a compelling refrain in the explosive chorus. The lyrics discuss the troubled cyclic life of the woman in question, warning the listeners of her alluring but dangerous personality. Despite Beauty Behind the Madness’s long line of womanly triumphs, Tesfaye seems to have hit a funk, although these more emotionally inflamed assertions are very effective.
These grimier numbers are balanced with the tracks reflective of The Weeknd circa. Can’t Feel My Face. The album’s send-off I Feel It Coming, also featuring Daft Punk, draws the aid of a relaxed disco bass and a fragmented synth background, echoing other neo-disco tracks of the year, while keeping wholly and originally The Weeknd. Eighties reiterations are notable elsewhere in tracks such as Secrets, the jovial punch veiling angry lyrics about cheating. Sidewalks’s chilled rippling drums has nods to reggae, the pitchy guitar riff giving it a modern infusion; Kendrick Lamar’s hip-hop verse, however, completely steals the show. Sidewalks, alongside True Colours, make for cool breaks, as they unravel into the album’s most simplistically-produced assets, while Lana Del Rey’s Stargirl (Interlude) adds an atmospheric alt edge to the tracklist. This track also connects with The Weeknd’s role as Starboy – though he finds his fame life tough, this sullen mini-track provides a glimmer of hope that he can find solace in this Stargirl going through the same, despite its gloom.
The breadth of mature and hidden meanings throughout this album proves Abel Tesfaye right – no, he’s not a conventional pop artist. He has created a sophisticated insight into the world of fame in a spectacularly rich and authentic album, elevating himself above all ‘pop’ expectations.
The Weeknd – Starboy: 9/10
By Eleanor Chivers
One of the most talented and enigmatic songwriters this island has to offer has announced her sixth studio album Semper Femina, due for release early next year. Laura Marling has always drawn from introspection and it seems that this latest album would draw on similar themes of broken romance and its aftermath. That is the theme for ‘Soothing’ to a large extent, yet she still meanders these themes with imaginative and intriguing imagery. The music that delivers this imagery is recorded in perfect isolation, as if there is a 10,000 ft drop off the end of each pluck of the guitar. What carries you between them is Laura’s earthy vocals which stretch and bend hauntingly as the song goes on. A simple track which does quite a lot.
The Berlin via Byron Bay quintet that makes up Parcels are to release their new EP Hideout on January 27th and have released a third single taken from the extended play. ‘Older’ still retains the Euro-Disco sounds of the previous singles, but the crackling production and loose riffs are set to a Indie jolt led by the percussion and brought home by the back and forth, airy pop vocals. It is an upbeat and infectious track, but sees them loose a bit of their novelty to pursue a TDCC type sound, though delivered better nonetheless. Hopefully they can go back to shamelessly pursuing Disco or perhaps drop us a surprise in the future.
“Swim Against The Tide” is a nice compilation of music by The Japanese House. The EP’s soft, well produced music is both relaxing and intriguing whilst listening. The opening song, “Swim Against The Tide” is a blissful and easy introduction to the EP and a nice doorway into the kind of music you can expect from the rest of the EP. The song is well-produced, with soft spoken lyrics that blend well with the track. A personal favourite is “Good Side in” a kind-of acoustic song with a good amount of production behind it, creating something fairly unique in the process that is an enjoyable listen. The Japanese House’s “Swim Against The Tide” EP is a relaxing and well thought out collection, one that you can easily enjoy on both a casual listen and a more engaged listen. Definitely worth checking out.
Matthew T. Johnston
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