Though now almost two years old, The Weeknd‘s debut mixtape House Of Balloons still feels as fresh now as it did the first time I heard it—which is why the release of Trilogy, which collects the aforementioned mix along with the followups Thursday and Echoes of Silence, is so important—to you, as an evolving listener, and to music, as an evolving idea.
The first track by The Weeknd that ever truly moved me was the Siouxsie-sampling ‘House of Balloons’, the title track from Abel Tesfaye’s debut 2011 mixtape. Here were the sounds of both musical sides of my youth, the goth-pop grandeur of ‘Happy House‘ reformatted into relevancy with soulful R&B vocals and hooks enough to raise hell. Not only that, but the entire mixtape is littered with references that make my ears go WHAT: snippets of Aaliyah, Beach House and Cocteau Twins fit snugly in, but as punctuation rather than structure. Indeed, an over-saturation of references would have made House Of Balloons merely a selection of refixes and nostalgia-tinged edits. But the productions and vocals are more than strong enough to stand on their own, which makes the well-used and occasionally-restrained samples glow even brighter.
That’s not to say the mixtape is restrained—from start to finish, it’s an all-night seduction. Tesfaye’s silky-smooth vocals caress the ears and mind, wrapping it up in an easy embrace of leave-in-the-morning lust that’s impossible to not fidget through. Yet despite the casual sexuality, you’re left feeling more invigorated than fucked-out. The soaring “High For This” sets the tone, beckoning with crook’d finger before taking you up, up, away into a realm of smoke and mirrors before bringing you down into the sweat-soaked afterglow of “What You Need”. Sung-light dappling skin, sheets damp with the smell of Human. Those familiar Sioux “whoa-ohhs” signal a change of atmosphere: the throb of lights, packed body throbbing entwined—and when that changeup comes, so will you. “Make that money rain as they’re takin’ off they clothes” croons Abel, and you’re oh so willing to throw it all away for another push, another thrust of that voice into your dripping earholes. By the time “The Knowing” arrives, the slap of the snare and the throb of the bass will have you on your knees with a mouthful of worship.
If there’s any fault here, it that’s the number of peaks throughout House of Balloons can be exhausting, an extended orgy that might leave you raw. But don’t worry: “It don’t hurt like you thought it would”…it’s a good pain. Following Balloons, I’ve been increasingly turned off from Tesfaye’s work as the production levels kicked up and that personal, weirdo-pop vibe (with a few exceptions) seemed to disintegrate…which is why I’ll leave parts two and three of Trilogy to my colleagues to review. Now, if you’ll excuse me, all this soppy lusty prose has left me a bit coitus inner-earuptus, and it’s either a brisk jog around the block or a fuck-frenzy of bestial proportions. Somehow I think my workmates would rather the former.
The Weeknd’s Trilogy is out now on Republic Records.