Tuesday, 29 September 2015

TRILOGY Compilation Album Review

Check it out... if you possess a fondness for lo-fi, synthetic-based R&B artists, whose lyrics often refer to the more perverse of topics, including large quantities of drugs and sex 

Skip it... if you're easily put-off by talk of vulgar and illicit activities, misogyny and excessive indulgence, Abel Tesfaye's Trilogy an exploration of all three in great detail

"This is Trilogy; where you're in The Weeknd's ballpark, and you should expect to play to his rules. No exceptions."

In a world where the presence of social media and the eternal Internet is prevalent at every junction, it's refreshing to find something which doesn't have an extensive biography explicating every minor detail in its workings. When Abel Tesfaye, under the guise of The Weeknd, exploded onto the underground R&B scene in early 2011, no pre-existing information on the man could be obtained. Fans of his art, content and movement had no figurehead to direct their obsession towards. Tesfaye's mysterious and intriguing Weeknd character drew people in thanks solely to his commanding, ethereal and enthralling soundscapes, lush synthetics interacting with heavy percussion, and callous lyricism. In The Weeknd's world, one of indulgence and recklessness, he describes rooms full of masked characters, out to undermine, influence and ruin him. His brand of R&B is reminiscent of addiction in character; his wordplay seeks to convince you that your existence is dreadfully boring in comparison to the realm of sultry seduction, intoxication and promiscuity that he presides within. Devoid of reluctance or euphemism, he asks why one would choose to wallow in self-pity when they could be fucking hookers in a high-class apartment in downtown Toronto, cocaine visible on their upper lip. The Weeknd doesn't understand why one would chain themselves down with unnecessary attachment when they could, alternatively, lose themselves in the allure of inebriation; wash their pain away with liquor and intercourse. The Weeknd's existence covers the dark shade of humanity and contemporary society that we want to repress, but are inherently attracted to. 

With Trilogy, a compilation album that arranges all three of Tesfaye's 2011 mixtapes (House of BalloonsThursday and Echoes of Silence) into a seamless two and a half hour long product, the artist introduces us to his dark, oppressive and incohesive version of Toronto, no filters attached. Here, The Weeknd is the omnipresent narrator who destroys lives and rejects infatuation. He is a ghost who scurries amongst the scum of his city, inviting torment to join him on his explorations. Our first interaction with this demented character is on the sublime opener, 'High For This', where The Weeknd beckons us to follow him into his drug-induced world of exploitation. Synthetic fluctuations surround the audience as a cloud of heavy-reverb and muffled bass drum entice the listener forward; it's a serene and sensuous sonic environment that establishes the intended mood with appropriate charm. Tesfaye sings atop the stark production, "You don't know what's in store/But you know what you're here for", encouraging us to lose ourselves in the pulsation of the beat. When the production erupts to its full, towering size, the distorted bass overwhelming the senses of the audience, The Weeknd blatantly requests the compliance of his target; "Even though, you don't roll/Trust me girl, you wanna be high for this". It quickly sets the precedent for the rest of the journey. This is Trilogy; where you're in The Weeknd's ballpark, and you should expect to play to his rules. No exceptions.
The initial ten tracks belong to the remastered version of his first mixtape, House of Balloons, where he tells tales of his amoral seductions, his confidence unfaltering throughout. The aforementioned 'High For This' commences this section of the record, followed up by the disappointingly unfocused and unconvincing 'What You Need', where Tesfaye's capacity to pen dull and formulaic lyrics is exposed. Here, he is attempting to make himself out as a mysterious and beguiling figure of sex and intrigue, but his wordplay subverts his objective, and he comes off as childish and basic. Fortunately, he succeeds on the subsequent piece, the juxtapositions in tone, instrumentation and lyricism that make up 'House Of Balloons / Glass Table Girls' utterly exquisite. The first half of the track, making use of a sample from Siouxsie and the Banshees' 'Happy House', describes a tumultuous and wild night of partying, The Weeknd informing the subject of the track that they are unable to leave, and that they "belong to [him]". Despite the dark subject matter, this first three and a half minutes is augmented with an energetic, jubilant instrumental, an intentional contradiction of the lyrics. The second half possesses a forceful beat and grimy tone, but proves more tame in theme than its predecessor, another subversion that arouses interest from a listener. This discrepancy inadvertently describes the singer's own image and reality; The Weeknd's exterior seems frothy, descriptions of wild nights and narcotic-influenced adventures coming off as orthodox from a distance. But his world is darker than the stereotypes. His approach feels more predatory than smooth, and his descriptions of intoxication include the high and the come-down, a departure from the norm of atmospheric R&B. No one is simultaneously adhering to yet transcending the characteristics of the genre as well as Tesfaye.

The intimate, harsher electronic tones that define House of Balloons, particularly tracks 'The Morning', 'Coming Down' and 'The Knowing', are replaced with a more impactful, rock-influenced sonic palette (similar to the one seen on 'Loft Music) on the second act of the record; the tracks which belong to the Thursday segment. The erotic, attractive confidence that permeated the previous ten tracks turns more dour and emotive, Tesfaye expressing disapproval of his own ways in small but meaningful instances. The title of the mixtape refers to a female character deemed "Thursday"; a lady who is designated only the day of Thursday to interact with The Weeknd. No more, no less. This segment of the album (initially) follows on from the uproarious assuredness of House of Balloons, with 'Lonely Star' and 'Life Of The Party'; two tracks whose slick guitars and fast, frenetic snare beats serve as picturesque party anthems. Robert Rossi of The Gavel accurately described 'Lonely Star' in particular as "the soundtrack to walking slow motion through a nightclub with designer shades shielding your bloodshot eyeballs, a Molotov cocktail of mind-altering substances and natural swagger coursing through your bloodstream." These two tracks describe one of his characteristic seductions, the difference being that this new-found relationship quickly turns unsatisfactory and disconcerting for our protagonist, as Thursday falls deeply in love with The Weeknd. Unsatisfied with how little time she gets to spend with her love interest (as illustrated on the muddled and disappointing title track, 'Thursday'), she kills herself during 'The Bird Pt. 2', and is quickly forgotten by our protagonist. For some, this may be viewed as a major misstep; the fact that this character Thursday is so quickly dismissed in favour of more anthems dedicated to the celebration of the same stuff we got to hear about so consistently on House of Balloons is certainly troublesome. 

Fortunately, the vast majority of the music on the second half of Thursday backs up this narrative decision; 'Rolling Stone' is a song that deals directly with Tesfaye's unexpected rising fame, and the minimalistic approach utilised in this context is at once mesmerising and effective. It almost makes up for the tremendously unfocused, unsatisfactory synths of 'Gone', one of Trilogy's most disappointing (and lengthy) diversions. By the time Echoes Of Silence, the final portion of the album, arrives, Thursday's inconsistent narrative has turned forgettable, the potential for a riveting story having been expended shortly after the halfway point. Echoes Of Silence, on the other hand, offers a more introspective, vague description of events, something Tesfaye is much better at doing lyrically and vocally. This third segment features some of the most ingenious, compelling composition of the young artist's career thus far, and proves to be the most frequently engaging section of the record. From the hard-hitting, resonant percussion on his cover of Michael Jackson's 'Dirty Diana', 'D.D', to the mellow, wavering electronics of 'Montreal', to the hollow, distant piano chords of the title track, 'Echoes Of Silence', the final third of Trilogy presents some of the finest in modern R&B. His talk of illicit substances and endless promiscuity halts as realisation and self-awareness seep in. The descriptions that characterised the previous two mixtapes are exchanged for brooding reflection, The Weeknd expressing a feeling of emptiness that was only previously hinted at within small portions of Thursday. On 'Next', a desire for intimate, personal connection is realised, as he reluctantly pushes back the hordes of women who want him solely for his fame and wealth. This song sees him come to terms with how shallow and meaningless this life of monotonous pleasure and substance abuse really is; these sentiments are explored further on 'Echoes Of Silence' as he asks his most recently acquired girl what she wanted when she gave into his seductions. He ends this piece with a cry of 'No, no, no, no..." as his voice fades into nothingness. 

Whilst every piece that makes up Trilogy can be appreciated on its own terms, the overarching, admittedly loose, narrative that ties each individual segment together transforms House Of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes Of Silence into something far greater as a connected three-piece. The abrasive, jarring and aggressive allure of the preliminary chapter; the classic rock elements of the sophomore effort; the despondent pain and agony evident on the concluding piece; as one, it details the life of a merciless predator who preys on the weak, who, over time, comes to terms with the banality of his dastardly deeds. In terms of sheer compositional prowess, Trilogy is an exemplary initial foray for any artist, let-alone one who was virtually homeless during portions of the recording of its initial nine tracks. And whilst lyrically Tesfaye can be quick to underwhelm, the instances where he succeeds and offers intelligent analysis of his own world and that of his made-up Weeknd persona are genuinely riveting. Trilogy falls short of brilliance, but that's not to discredit its wide variety of achievements; with these three individual mixtapes and collective record, the young Tesfaye has altered the trajectory of R&B in a drastic, impactful fashion, and we're sure to feel the influence of Trilogy long into the future. This is an engrossing, entertaining and evocative compilation album that demands attention. You can purchase Trilogy on Amazon or iTunes, here and here.



Additional notes on release: Trilogy is a compilation of Abel Tesfaye's three 2011 mixtapes, House Of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes Of Silence. Each mixtape initially featured nine tracks each, all of which can be found on Trilogy. This compilation includes three extra songs; 'Twenty Eight' (track ten), 'Valerie' (track twenty), and 'Till Dawn (Here Comes The Sun)' (track thirty).

Track Listing

1.High For This4:07
2.What You Need3:16
3.House Of Balloons / Glass Table Girls6:47
4.The Morning5:15
5.Wicked Games5:24
6.The Party & The After Party7:39
7.Coming Down4:55
8.Loft Music6:04
9.The Knowing5:41
10.Twenty Eight (Bonus Track)4:18
11.Lonely Star5:49
12.Life Of The Party4:57
14.The Zone6:58
15.The Birds Pt. 13:34
16.The Birds Pt. 25:50
18.Rolling Stone3:50
19.Heaven Or Las Vegas5:53
20.Valerie (Bonus Track)4:46
24.XO / The Host7:23
26.Same Old Song5:12
27.The Fall5:45
29.Echoes Of Silence4:02
30.Till Dawn (Here Comes The Sun)5:19
Total Album Time:159:35

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