When Abel Tesfaye first emerged nine years ago as The Weeknd, the R&B crooner who sang of infidelity, drugs, and depression, the world took to his hazy and melancholic aesthetic and sonic disposition, garnering both critical acclaim and a fervently devoted fanbase.
Tesfaye’s signature drowsy and hypnotic sound would soon, however, become the sound of a generation, with up and coming hip-hop and R&B artists imitating and emulating his languid instrumentals and morose lyrical content. Following his 2015 commercial breakthrough, Beauty Behind the Madness, and its high concept and glittery follow up Starboy, The Weeknd’s new album After Hours attempts to blend the drug-addled lament and somnambulant synths of his debut era with the high-octane Max Martin pop of his recent radio hits. The result is pleasing, to say the least. After Hours, is, by and large, The Weeknd’s most consistent sonic effort since his debut era. Trimming the bloat of his last two major-label releases, the album feels like a welcome conceptual return for the man that laid the groundwork for the sound of contemporary alt-pop music.
Setting the tone of the album the haunting “Alone Again” and “Too Late” effortlessly coalesce the pop sensibilities that made for The Weeknd’s ear candy radio-fodder with the often-times eerie and downtrodden production and lyricism that fans have come to revere him for. Warbling synths and growling basslines are dripped in reverb with the singer’s signature falsetto floating across the mix.
This melange of pop and gritty lo-fi is the sonic cornerstone of the album, and where his 2018 E.P My Dear Melancholy felt at times, derivative and stale, The Weeknd, here, feels re-invigorated; finding the sweet spot between sullen conceit and up-tempo debauchery. Later in the tracklist, songs like the powerhouse “Blinding Lights”, and the downright Michael Jacksonesque “In Your Eyes” and “Faith” provide the dancefloor-ready radio hits of the album. Tesfaye has a penchant for the ’80s, as evidenced in many of the dance-heavy singles from Starboy, and here he stays the course, riding pumping instrumentals where glittering synths and saxophones solos abound.
The Weeknd has always walked the line between mass-appeal and subcultural grit, and After Hours feels like the singer finding his footing amongst these two opposing sensibilities. The stand-out track of the album comes in the form of the title-track. A Paean to pain replete with whirring techno synths and sparse 4×4 drums; the song finds Tesfaye proclaiming the return of his former self. “I turned into the man I used to be,” he croons over a slinky foreboding 8-bit synth.
The song swells from his usual synth-heavy and whispy downtempo sound to a truly after-hours worthy techno tune, with a lone echoing synth bouncing off of his falsetto whispers. Oftentimes The Weeknd’s cynicism doesn’t quite match up with the sonic disposition of his dance-heavy tracks, but here, we feel as though we are dancing alongside him, in all of his debaucherous pain and self-loathing. The track is the thesis of the album and offers a glimpse into an artist finding his footing amidst his public persona and his inner turmoil; After Hours is a study of contradictions and a testament to the fact that for the Weeknd, there is much beauty amongst the madness.
Cody is the managing editor and senior contributor at Glossi Mag.
He is a photography aficionado, masters candidate, fashion enthusiast, avid Ariana Grande fan and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.