The Weeknd - House of Balloons
Record Label: XO
Release Date: March 21, 2011
I don't watch Entourage, and I've never had any motivation to. While I know next to nothing about the series, the commercials currently airing for the HBO drama's final season carry a special something that is hard to ignore. The atmospheric and darkly triumphant tones make the sparsely acted promo seem oddly special, even though it carries very little in the way of exposition for ignorant viewers like myself.
For many, that was their first introduction to Abel Tesfaye, who creates similar compositions under the moniker The Weeknd. While I was in the process of working my way backwards through his short, two-record discography, I was unsurprised to find the background music was the intro track for Tesfaye's debut album House of Balloons. “High for This” is an entrancing refrain of seduction, an ode to the joys of sex under the influence. With enough lurid undertones to last for days, this opening track is a syllabus on the unique R&B realm Tesfaye inhabits.
While overall House of Balloons carries a chilling vibe, it proceeds to rock the listener with exciting tempos and relaxing melodies that intertwine to form a beautiful piece of art. The intro leads to “What You Need,” a track that sees Tesfaye taking the role of the “other man,” the one left out in the cold looking in. Though he may have lost the girl, he smoothly reiterates the same point over and over again. His confident declaration of importance is cocky yet endearing, as he concedes the other man may be what she wants, but he himself is what she actually needs. A bit over the top, yes, but effortlessly suave and completely believable.
And that's what the meat of House of Balloons boils down to. Tesfaye keeps up a constant stream of intrepid exposition throughout the whole album, exaggerated yet wholly persuasive. If the situations in his lyrics haven't actually happened, it's easy to see them going down much like he predicts. Even the few lines that have nothing to do with anything remotely sensual are bogged down in provocative imagery. “The Morning” sees Tesfaye comparing his introduction to the music scene as both pleasurable and painful, a “virgin to that money/virgin to the fame” that's taking his licks but coming out on top. This track also shows a different side to Tesfaye's vocal delivery, as he slows the rhythm down to inflect his words with a hip-hop pace that's contradictory to his normal falsetto choruses.
But House of Balloons does carry a single glaring moment of introspective pleading in the track “Wicked Games.” The sound is similar to the the opening track “High for This” and seems like a sequel to the events that took place in that first track. Tesfaye is unusually distraught, dropping the veneer of fearlessness as he begs for affirmation. The love is, sadly enough, not as important as the facade of love, and Tesfaye offers the world as long as he's given that one satisfaction. “Wicked Games” matches its melancholic compositions with equally disheartened lyrics, but it's this short crack in the mirror that gives us the clearest glimpse at the completeness of the Weeknd persona Tesfaye has adopted.
House of Balloons is, in essence, a sultry look at Tesfaye's conquests. Fact or fiction; it doesn't really matter. Each track is an intimate scene dripping with smoldering passion, from the provocative opener “High for This” to the despair of “The Knowing.” In The Weeknd, Tesfaye has crafted a unique musical vehicle, abounding with emotion that runs the gamut of human experience. While some of the lyrics fail to hold much weight under intense scrutiny, the overall sound is quite often a thing of beauty. House of Balloons is subtle in its approach and utterly captivating on return listens, making a strong case for Tesfaye's staying power in an already crowded music scene.