Whenever I go back and listen to The Weeknd’s early mixtapes (House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence, all of which were compiled into the album dubbed Trilogy in 2012), it always blows my mind how artistically fully-formed he managed to sound as an anonymous nobody. Seriously, most musicians try in vain their entire lives to conjure up something as vivid and unique as the pitch-black, drugged-out atmosphere that Abel Tesfaye and his producers were miraculously able to create on these genre-defying tapes. This man accomplished it while being a broke 20-year-old in Toronto. If you don’t believe me or only know The Weeknd as the can’t-feel-my-face starboy that he’s now today, press play on the video below.
Nah really, I’ll wait.
His new surprise EP, My Dear Melancholy,, is a tantalizing return to the moody darkness that defined his early work. (Abel got us all excited for a full-length album- WHO THE HELL DROPS EP’S ANYMORE BRO??- but hey I’ll take the six songs.) The internet suspects that certain lyrics are in reference to a recent fling he had with Selena Gomez, and this makes sense as a quick project that was done in the wake of a break-up that sent him reeling into a bitter mind state.
“Call Out My Name” sets the tone from the beginning with muted pianos and dissonant bass lines, sounding like the edgier evil twin of his schmaltzy breakout hit “Earned It.” The music throughout the six tracks sprawls rather than bounces, more intent on establishing murky atmosphere than shiny melodies. The Weeknd’s extraordinary Michael Jackson-esque singing voice can sound good over anything as we all know at this point, but there’s something special and transfixing about the clash of it howling against shadowy, ominous soundscapes.
Lyrically, Tesfaye is more direct than usual in getting his afflictions out on his ex-lover(s). “Try Me” and “Wasted Times” are effective lamentations on nullified relations. “I Was Never There” is the one song that transcends the theme into something universal, and it’s more memorable for it. Over eerie synth drones, Tesfaye brings a sense of haunting despair to the chorus of “When it’s time, when it’s time, when it’s time…it won’t matter.” This potent feeling of emotional bleakness within the search for a good time is something no other pop singer can pull off like him. It’s an area he should continue to explore further.
The Weeknd will probably never again catch the artistic magic that he did on his mixtape trilogy, or be able to match his pop star sensibilities to his gothic persona as well as he did on 2015’s Beauty Behind The Madness (will there be a #1 hit as sinister as “The Hills” ever again?). However, My Dear Melancholy, shows that there’s still ample room for him to explore in the dark. Let’s hope these six solid songs are just a preview of what’s next.