Since the late 2000s, ethereal and alternative R&B music has become a staple on people’s playlists. With an alternative to pop-tinged hooks and simplistic production, artists such as Abel Tesfaye have been instrumental in bringing this fresh, new genre to the forefront with dark lyrics and layered, moody soundscapes. Tesfaye, better known as the Weeknd, created quite the buzz for himself with a string of mixtapes, the first of which, “House of Balloons,” generated his biggest hit “Wicked Games.” Following support from Drake, the release of his first compilation album, “Trilogy,” and Juno Awards for R&B Recording of the Year and Breakthrough Artist, Tesfaye has proven he can compete.
“Kiss Land” shows Tesfaye developing a bigger sound and utilizing influences from his predecessors. “The Town” feels reminiscent of later Michael Jackson recordings. “Belong to the World” takes advantage of Tesfaye’s polished falsetto over strong 808s and rigid synths similar to that of Usher’s “Looking 4 Myself” LP.
At times on this album, it may feel as though Tesfaye has abandoned his dark and tormented mystique for a more intelligible sound, however, on the opener, “Professional,” his soulless, tormented world comes crashing through, this time capturing the perspective of his lover as well as himself. The track emerges with a lush, layered background accompanied by echoed vocals quickly unwinding into a display of affection for a woman hidden inside herself. Tesfaye utters the words, “What’s a somebody in a nobody town,” proclaiming the woman is famed in her world, but when she steps into the real world, she is a nobody. He takes control. The narrative escalates in “Wanderlust,” in which the woman is afraid of her life with him and he comes to the realization that she will soon dismiss him.
It appears as if Tesfaye has found exactly what he was aiming for all along, that of heartless desire, on the title track, and perhaps the climax of the album, “Kiss Land.” Backed with glistening drums and manipulated vocals, he tells of a life of loneliness and isolation while touring the world. It becomes visible that Tesfaye’s newfound fame has taken a toll on his life as the rather hazy story comes to an end with “Tears in the Rain.”
“Kiss Land” plays out as a tale of heartache, impulse and, at times, insanity. Some songs may feel out of place when listened to individually, but when played out as a whole project, the story comes to life. I highly recommend this album.
Nicholas Ventura is a senior at West Seneca West High School.