The Weeknd ‘Dawn FM’ Review: Dancefloor opus damaged by art

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The three and a half year gap between Starboy and After hours contributed to the feeling that the latter marked the beginning of a new era for the Weeknd (EP 2018 My dear melancholy despite). In many ways Dawn FM looks like an extension of this new imperial phase. With the help of Martin and Lopatin, who both worked on After hours, Tesfaye refined and refracted the MJ-grade stage pop elements that have long permeated his music, relying less than ever on the kind of dark R&B he launched in his initial mixtape trilogy. Dawn FM replaces that foundation with his own twisted take on a range of dance-pop subgenres reminiscent of the early ’80s – disco, boogie, electro, funk, new wave.

The journey begins with a series of tracks created with Lopatin, highlighted by ‘Gasoline’, which finds Tesfaye trading his usual falsetto for a brutal and almost robotic post-punk effect on rippling keyboard melodies, percolating synths and a drum. retro hard. Machines. The lyrics on the debauched phone conversations before sunrise are reminiscent of “The Hills” – “It’s 5 in the morning, it’s still my time / I’m calling and you know it’s me” – but the context sound couldn’t be more different. The vocal change is particularly surprising, as Thom Yorke in the angelic voice descending in scrambled mumbles on Child A. And while “Gasoline” is the album’s most radical departure – Tesfaye mostly returns to his signature nimble timbre later – it sets the stage for many transcendent bangers to come.

Of the Dawn FM jumps right into a series of awesome genre exercises that also work as thrilling pop songs, starting with the flickering keyboard breakdown and electro-disco beat of “How Do I Make You Love Me?” Martin’s helm “Take My Breath” remains exhilarating, with frenzied keyboard arpeggios and relentless percussion guitars and floating finger hooks. Recent friends of the Weeknd Swedish House Mafia associated “Sacrifice” with a poorly processed guitar loop and a perfectly smooth Alicia Myers sample, closest to Dawn FM happens to the former collaborators of Weeknd Daft Punk. Even when the album slows down, like during the funky interlude that finds music legend Quincy Jones unboxing his own childhood trauma, that sense of bodily rhythm rarely stops. Expert curation also doesn’t like having hopeless romantic Tyler, The Creator rap on Bruce Johnston’s soft-rock schlock, the part-time Beach Boy who wrote Barry Manilow’s “I Write The Songs.”

As the album comes out of its low-key middle stretch towards its final epiphany, it frequently veers into synthetic funk and boogie tracks, like DaHeala’s production “Best Friends,” with its keyboard bassline. imposing staccato. Often times, these songs are just fuzzy enough to sound like the chillwave that appeared on blogging just before The Weeknd came along, specifically “Is There Someone Else?” The alignment of Tesfaye, Lil Wayne and Calvin Harris on “I Heard You’re Married” gives me hope that Harris could one day honor us with Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2. The grooves are heavy and abundant. The scope looks epic, like Lemonade Where My beautiful twisted dark fantasy, but even midtempo tracks are too lively to be weighed down by their own opulence. It is only on the sleepy and inert “Starry Eyes” that the existential party stops.

Over a decade into his career, The Weeknd knows better than to let his big ideas derail a crowd pleaser. At the same time, he knows better than ever how to integrate his most avant-garde tastes into future radio hits. Thereby, Dawn FMIt’s conclusion involves two separate Max Martin co-writings that are both weirder than “Blinding Lights” but could presumably follow him to the top of the charts. First, there is his “Don’t Break My Heart”, a meditative but rhythmic hymn, at the intersection of passion, desire and fear. Then, after slipping all over “I Heard You’re Married,” Tesfaye hits the accelerator for the nervous and euphoric “Less Than Zero,” a grand finale that got me jotting down notes like “Is a children’s choir? And “Clap your hands, say yes, guy shit?” As a pop song it’s a triumph, but it leaves the Weeknd somewhere below the triumph: “I try to hide it but I know you know me / I try to fight it but I prefer to be free / I’ll always be less than zero / You did your best with me, I know.

For something like resolution, you’ll have to stay tuned for another track. Of all the surprises on Dawn FM, most importantly could be that his most emotionally devastating streak belongs to Jim Carrey. “Phantom Regret”, a spoken word by Carrey set to music by Tesfaye and Lopatin, functions both as an epilogue and a summary of the album’s philosophical trend. With almost Seussian cadence – funny coming from a guy who once played the Grinch – Carrey falls back into his eerily calm voice on the radio to instruct and reflect, “now that all future plans have been postponed.” He continues to let go of your pain and grudges, empty your heavy heart, confident that you will flourish if you simply turn to the light. “God knows life is chaos, but He made it real,” Carrey intones. “You have to relax your mind, train your soul to line up and dance until you find that divine boogaloo.” On paper, this is absurd. But like so many Weeknd nonsense, in practice, it’s a revelation.

Dawn FM is now available on XO / Republic.


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