Underwhelmed and Overstimulated, Part Nine: Working For The Weeknd

weeknd drake.jpg
Drake and the Weeknd... enjoying themselves?
Sound of the City's year-end roundtable, with contributions from Tom Ewing, Eric Harvey, Maura Johnston, Nick Murray, and Katherine St. Asaph, continues. Follow along here.

Fellow roundtablers,

As we turn down the home stretch, I have to say this has all been awesome, and I'm a little sad that we'll soon have to wrap this up. That being said, I'm going to take advantage of that fact that neither Maura, Katherine, nor Tom will be able to respond to anything I say and talk a little about the Weeknd. In the words of Abel Tesfaye, you'll wanna be high for this.

Okay, that's not entirely true. I mean, you might still wanna be high for this, but I won't be talking about the Weeknd. At least not directly, or at least not yet. I'd actually like to skip over the last three posts (all excellent, really) and return to the question of the relationship—or perhaps more precisely, the disconnect—between casual listeners and writers/obsessives, the 49,999,999 fans who can't be wrong and the one who probably is. Last year, I realized my disconnect when I went home and encountered Young Money's fruity, loopy "Bedrock" not as stand-in for all that is wrong with rap lyricism but as a song in the middle of a radio playlist. In this context, it sounded great, a nice pick me up after R&Bummer jams like Trey Songz's "Successful," and before I knew it I was bouncing up and down as I drove down the highway. The fact that neither of my parents's cars have functional seat warmers might have had something to do with this, but the Kane Beatz production surely didn't hurt.

The Weeknd, "High for This"

With the Weeknd, this has worked almost in reverse. When House of Balloons dropped this March—or even when Echoes of Silence dropped just yesterday—it seemed as though few critics, particularly R&B critics, wanted to talk about the music, at least not in serious detail. Instead, discussions focused almost entirely around audiences, or maybe they began with a theoretical audience and then worked backwards into the music, with the result that few were ultimately able to say much about either.

In a way, this isn't surprising. The tape (or is at a "free album"?) first gained momentum after appearing and re-appearing on Pitchfork and its imitators, a group whose track record on R&B is almost as bad as its track record on country and latin music. Naturally, those more likely to bump the Lloyds and Miguels of the world (one of the two is actually sitting alongside the Weeknd on my just submitted, alphabetically ordered Pazz ballot) couldn't help but ask and continue to ask what attracted this audience to a genre it often ignores. There's obviously some conjecture here, but I think that recounting is for the most part accurate.

Either way, if you listen to that tape—I'm talking about House of Balloons here—wondering, "What about this has attracted traditionally 'indie' listeners," the answer seems obvious. It samples Beach House for chrissake! And beyond that, its emphasis on dank, combusting atmospherics mirrored much of the work being showcased on the then recently opened (and now recently closed) Pitchfork sister site Altered Zones.

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