By David D. Robbins Jr. | Their Bated Breath
The Weeknd “House of Balloons”
“Trust me, you might wanna be high for this”. (Or horny as hell.) Naw, seriously, that’s just the chorus of the first track, “High For This”, off The Weeknd’s free 9-song mix “House of Balloons”. It’s part Drake, part How To Dress Well, with a sexual mind-grind worthy of early Prince. Remember when Prince turned an airplane ride into cloud-soaring ecstasy on “International Lover”, or when he sang about Nikki masturbating with a magazine before passing the time with a good screw? Now you’re feeling The Weeknd’s vibe. A world where “come” is always a sexual suggestion and never a request to approach.
The style of this record is both familiar and highly idiosyncratic. Underneath the traditional elements (i.e. modern slow-jam quality, auto-tune and falsetto) is an uncommon adornment. You’ll hear darkly odd sounds, shades of electronica, and synth. There’s an appreciation for things that go bump in the night, or rather for people who bump in the night. It’s the soundtrack for all that happens behind closed doors. This ain’t your momma’s R&B. There’s a worldly edge to it all, with its empty-sex romps, masculine bombast and its insistence that most people only want you for what you can give them.
This record shows an eclecticism while holding tightly to melody and relative vocal clarity. You’ll find samples from Beach House’s “Master of None” to Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Happy House”. “House of Balloons” is the perfect blending of experimentation and popular contemporary style. This isn’t How To Dress Well, barely heard below his pretty samples and arrangements. On the other hand, “House of Balloons” is far from the adolescent and unimaginative crooning of modern R&B radio play. There are verses on this record that will stun with their sexiness or brashness. “What You Need” is a panty-droppin’ slow-drag seduction: “Does he touch you here, like this? / Let me take dictation from your lips / And I’m-a love you girl … / I’m the drug in your veins / Just fight through the pain / He’s what you want / He’s what you want / I’m what you need.” Or listen below to the honeyed chorals of “House of Balloons” transitioning into the smooth sex-drenched, weed-smoke drift of “Glass Table Girls”, one of the best segments on the record: “And it’s half past six / Weed smells / ‘Cuz time don’t exist … / She give me sex in a handbag / I get her wetter than a wet-mare / And no closed doors / So I listen to her moans echo.” All that purring lyricism floats atop a sinister groove Massive Attack would love. (A must listen. Check it out at the 3:30 mark.) “The Morning” is a more traditional R&B-styled track, outside the beautiful and bluesy guitar phrases. But again it’s the odd lyricism, delivery style and harmonic arrangement that makes the song flourish as more than an anthemic club-grind for the post-midnight crowd. The Weeknd writes this about a post-partying morning: “Drinking malaise with our cereal at breakfast.”
Everything about this record seems steeped, like a Havana fatty infused with rum. The Weeknd rolls out phrases that transform into nighttime mantras like, “Zombies of the night” and “Music of the ambiance”. But this isn’t simply an effort in jersey-popping. “Wicked Games” finds The Weeknd singing about a vulnerable state, “I need confidence in myself … / Tell me you love me.” But The Weeknd doesn’t stay there long before going back to the strutting bravado of “The Party & The After Party”, which feels like a sister song to “What You Need”. It’s in the former where The Weeknd drops this sick line, “They don’t want my love / They just want my potential.” Amen. “Loft Music” is a floater, highly reverbed falsetto vocals just hang in the air, overlapping each other with a worshipful solemnity.
There’s not a whole lot known about the creator(s) of this record, outside of being from Canada. I’ve read a name bandied about — Abel Tesfaye. I also hear producer Doc McKinney (Esthero) has his fingerprints on the record too. Let’s face it, it doesn’t really matter who made these tunes, but that the music exists. There’s been a trend in music over the last couple of years for obscuring the personal bio of the musician or even remaining anonymous, like WU LYF, or Basket of Figs (for a time). The music can be so different from how an artist views himself that some disassociation is needed. Of course, there are some musicians who realize talent+anonymity can really create buzz. But more often than not its to keep the focus on the music, because there’s no crowd who judges a book by its cover more than music fans. Note: All lyrics are unofficial. This record is highly recommended. Click on the image above to download it for free.