Every Tuesday, Torontoist scours record store shelves in search of the city’s most notable new releases and brings you the best—or sometimes just the biggest—of what we’ve heard in Sound Advice.
If you haven’t caught wind of The Weeknd yet, don’t worry. Their faint blip on the radar is rapidly becoming a wailing siren, so deafening you’ll soon need industrial-strength ear muffs to avoid hearing about them. Although their free debut mixtape, House of Balloons, has only been out for a month, the Toronto-based, Drake-bolstered upstarts are already setting major media outlets abuzz, with some touting them as progenitors of a new brand of hipster-friendly R&B. (PBR&B, anyone?)
But tune out all that ruckus and you’ve got a dangerously consuming album that explores R&B’s eerie and dreary outer limits. The brainchild of singer Abel Tesfaye and producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo, House of Balloons retains the genre’s requisite let’s-get-it-on vibe—via slow-as-molasses grooves and blood-warm falsettos about parties, sex, and drugs—but cavernous, claustrophobic auras and despondent lyrics uncover something morbid within the VIP section. “Bring the drugs baby, I can bring my pain,” Tesfaye cries over mournfully descending guitar chords on “Wicked Games.” Blackstreet this ain’t.
There are traces of Drake and The-Dream at their most introspective here, but Tesfaye’s got much scarier demons to exorcise, ones that linger long after the soulless nights of heavy narcotics and disposable women. “I always want you when I’m coming down,” he confesses on Balloon‘s most ominous track (streaming above), in between Lynchian whispers and crawling piano keys. A few Beach House samples here may indeed draw in the indie crowd, but it’s The Weeknd’s unsettling depiction of the empty lows after every high that make this more genuine than your average hipster-hop.