REVIEW: The Weeknd – ‘Kiss Land’

The Weeknd Kiss Land Review

Artist: The Weeknd
Album: Kiss Land
Genre: Electronic R&B
Label: Republic Records

The speed behind The Weeknd’s fame has everything to do with his role as the mysterious, unknown narrator. When Abel Tesfaye—the mastermind behind that beautiful voice and sweet electronic hum—uploaded three tracks to YouTube in 2010 under the moniker The Weeknd, nobody knew who to praise. Was this the work of a group? Was yet another new teen prodigy showing up or had a superstar taken up a new alter-ego? Someone had to be lifted up in a chair, but that someone felt no immediacy in undoing his cloak.

Just a year later, the internet fawned over three nine-song EPs and the man whose identity was still unknown. Tesfaye bunched them together, labeled the package Trilogy, and bound the three EPs with string; a final statement towards his music that seemed to indicate he could potentially be done. That is, until word fell of a debut LP.

As with anyone who takes this path (Azealia Banks, Icona Pop, AlunaGeorge, and so on), the pressure placed on their first full-length is nearly impossible to live up to. Thankfully, The Weeknd has taken all the expectations and dropped them into a cauldron. Kiss Land is darker, more intense, than his past work. Maybe it’s because with its release comes the reveal of his identity, his face staring back at the camera for the album’s cover. He hasn’t given up hiding; he’s standing confidently alongside his creation.

No track is as clear an example of this as “Belong to the World.” Rapid-fire electronic drums shoot off and a hostile aura locks down immediately. Somehow the song becomes a smooth groove by the time he begins singing. If Tesfaye hadn’t revealed himself, “Belong to the World” would have faced even more trouble than it already has. Its ridiculous similarity to Portishead’s excellent 2008 track “Machine Gun” is almost indisputable; they may have recorded their own version, thus being able to deny sampling the track, the likeness in sound, instruments, and notes bleeds infringement. Regardless of the dispute that’s untangling, “Belong to the World” is a strong track that couldn’t support itself without Tesfaye there to hold it under added weight.

As tough as it must have been to write, The Weeknd stacks Kiss Land with sexist lyrics, many coming from his knees at confession instead of a high chin. “Kiss Land,” “Pretty,” and the like are all at fault, including “Belong to the World” (because wanting to “mistreat” and “domesticate” a lover is never okay no matter how daring a backing beat may be).

His bravery in admitting faults, even if not stated clearly, is paralleled by opener “Professional” (whose drop breaks halfway through and the yolk pours out in the form of female vocals) and the deluxe addition of “Odd Look,” his collaboration with Kavinsky that will lock your repeat button for at least five extra plays, whether you realize you’ve clicked it or not. Drake’s takeover on “Live For” gives the record its takeaway meal for those who aren’t ready to take in the whole album. Addictive, simple, and driven by words-turned-beats, “Live For” nods understatedly to the struggle, the defeat, and the support present throughout it all.

Do note the recent rise of R&B and its alternative spinoffs. The past year alone has given birth to an increasing acceptance of R&B acts upon first listen. Much like country or jazz, it’s one of those genres that people feel closed off from—often times due to a lack of exposure or a lack of background knowledge—and unlikely to crave when they search for songs to play. There’s classic R&B soul on the rise with acts like Charles Bradley, the indie “PBR&B” singers like Frank Ocean and Miguel, and electronic twists like The Weeknd himself (even though he more recently gets clumped in the “PBR&B” category as well).

What this does for Tesfaye is widen his target audience, a sizeable group that is opening its dictionary for terms to be defined. Lucky for him, he’s one of the few who get to uncap their pens and fill in blanks that may otherwise be written by another musician.

As too many have, fighting over the creativity of Kiss Land is truly the wrong bone to pick. The production on Kiss Land forms bitumen whereas his voice is the yellow paint, keeping everything in line and operating. His songs aren’t as vibrant as those stacked in Trilogy because Tesfaye is past the point of introduction. Kiss Land walks a narrow beam that forces him to see how steadily he can walk. Girls, alcohol, and drugs are still the topics, but he’s stuck a needle and thread through them all to hang off a different connector: a maturing look of the world, a perspective that dawns a grim attitude in addition to the usual cynicism. Who can blame him? The Weeknd is taking his first high dive, and the pool he’s landed in is the right one.

Score: 7.7/10

Review written by: Nina Corcoran (Follow her on Twitter)

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  • Luanspotting

    Amazing LP.. dark, menacing, sexy, soulful.. 9/10..