Canadian artist Abel Tesfaye has evolved quite a bit from his first free mixtape Echoes of Silence back in 2011. Tesfaye’s early works consisted of 8 minute long songs cloaked in mysterious, drug-induced sounds and hypersexual fantasies of a young male. His obscure sounds and vocal freestyles have been watered down in his latest work Beauty Behind The Madness, but The Weeknd still administers compelling compositions as addictive as the substances he is constantly raving about.
Tesfaye’s recent breakout into mainstream music raised questions from fans as to whether or not the indie R&B enigma would lose his mysterious luster, but Beauty Behind The Madness has found a healthy balance of basic pop and underground PBR&B. Tesfaye gives a shout out to his longtime fans in “Tell Your Friends” singing “I think these hos deserve another fixin, talkin bout the ones from the beginnin”. Characterized by intense yet restrained vocals, grungy guitar, and subtle fader effects, “Tell Your Friends” is a classic Weeknd song. “Often” is another classic, released months ahead of the album as a single to harbor excitement for what was to come. An appropriate precursor for the album, “Often” has irresistible vibes from the singable lyrics to the booming bass.
Genre experimentation has always been one Tesfaye’s strong points and that hasn’t changed. Introducing his own version of funktronica on the track “Losers”, The Weeknd features lesser known London grime/R&B artist Labrinth. Simple like an Aloe Blacc single but funky like a GriZ jam, “Losers” is an interesting outlier among the salacious songs that dominate the album.
The Weeknd continues to be full of ingenious surprises in “Acquainted”, the closest to a genuine love song that we’ve ever gotten from Abel as he sings “To say we’re in love is dangerous, but girl I’m so glad we’re acquainted”. One of my personal favorites, “Acquainted” has an alluring contrast of drawn out vocals and quick lines, ending with a minute of daunting whispers and eerie noises. It also is no surprise that my favorite track was produced by Illangelo, a Canadian producer and mixing engineer that has been with The Weeknd from day one, attributing to the production that brought Abel his great success. “The Hills” single is another track produced by Illangelo, a song that would not be nearly as impressive without the Illangelo’s peculiar but dancey hip hop production.
Of course the single “Can’t Feel My Face” deserves an honorable mention. I fear the fact that it’s incredibly overplayed has prevented fans from realizing how much of a gem this song truly is. The way the music builds anxiety then explodes into a stellar deep house jam allows it to double as a party song and a chill song. Even if you roll your eyes each time it repeats on the radio, I guarantee at some point it has gotten stuck in your head and you weren’t even mad about it.
With just about every song worthy of being a single, The Weeknd has done well for himself in Beauty Behind the Madness. The two pop artist features (Ed Sheeran and Lana Del Ray) are two of the last captivating tracks, a testimony to Abel’s aptitude as a young artist. Based on the positive reception, I have a good feeling this is just the beginning of The Weeknd’s mainstream persona.