Album Review: The Weeknd - House Of Balloons
In a world where Pitchfork affords Lil Wayne as many column inches as Thom Yorke, it really is an oddity that R&B has rarely, if ever, been packaged with the indie crowd in mind. Sure The xx made unlikely Aaliyah fans out of a lot of us a couple of years ago, How To Dress Well proved last year that the words “lo-fi” and “R&B” could exist in the same sentence and labels like Stones Throw have long since served both audiences well. James Blake even lent the genre some serious in-crowd cache as recently as last month but indie fans have never seriously considered embracing a section of the music world they consider too polished, limp and just plain weak. Elusive Torontonians The Weeknd then deserve the blog buzz they’re currently generating for - if nothing else - being the first act to cross this most tricky of boundaries.
That they have done so in the space of just a couple of weeks with just a couple of MP3s and now this, their free-to-download debut mixtape, make the rumoured duo’s achievement all the more impressive. Fair enough, an introduction by Drake can’t exact hurt, nor can a Beach House sample or two or indeed their Burial-like anonymity - nobody has actually said how they know the mystery men in question are Abel Tesfaye on vocals and Doc McKinney and Illangelo on the boards - yet the excitement around the The Weeknd does genuinely seem to be chiefly down to a chilly, late-night, electronic sound that is complemented by sublime vocals. House Of Balloons, quite thrillingly, finds that sound to be already fully-formed over the course of its nine tracks.
A mixtape by legal definition only, House Of Balloons is far too fluid a piece of work not to be considered as a debut album proper. While the scenes may, true to R&B tradition, be set in the club or between the sheets, they are conveyed with such dark desperation that the overarching mood appears far more refreshing than what’s usually thrown up here. Indeed this listener hasn’t heard as exciting a run of tracks for quite some time as the sequence of numbers 3 through 6, starting off with the Siouxsie and the Banshees-sampling title track and finishing with the Beach House-borrowing ‘Party & The After Party’. The flip side of such middle of the order strength is that - ‘Loft Music’ aside - House Of Balloons peters out a little at the end with a couple of tracks that push their luck length-wise too. Yet when you’re listening to a record that’s sounds about as original as one can get in 2010, these are but minor quibbles. It’s almost enough to banish those R&B suspicions for good. Now where’s that Brandy and Monica single...