“You don’t know what you’re in for….but you know what you’re here for” is the ominous (and fitting) intro to “High For This,” the first track on House of Balloons, the debut mixtape from Toronto based R&B outfit The Weeknd. Exploring the same territory as newcomers Frank Ocean and The XX, The Weeknd creates slow burning jams that take traditional R&B into darker territory. It would be easy to compare this to mainstream artists like Drake and The Dream, but House of Balloons is less outright provocative and more subtle, with a hard edge that evokes a drug fueled night time adventure.
Not much is known about the singer/producer duo behind the project. They first entered the blogosphere when Drake tweeted a co-sign last month and generated an unprecedented buzz by challenging traditional R&B conventions with undeniably raw and creative soundscapes. The title track cleverly employs the hook of Siouxsie & the Banshees’ “Happy House” to drive this club friendly banger, before it drops into glitchy, Nintendo hell on the bridge. Album highlight “Wicked Games” is a distillation of what The Weeknd does best. The seductive slow jam feels brooding and dangerous with the electric guitar riff stalking in the background. The song highlights Abel’s use of hard lyrics to evoke an even darker scenario than the music would suggest, with lines like “I’ll give you all I need…even if you don’t love me” that sound deranged rather than desperate.
House of Balloons is a surprisingly strong and confident debut for a new artist. The tape shows incredible promise and potential for an artist with a unique vision. Rumored to be working with Drake and acclaimed producer Noah “40″ Shebib, it will be very interesting to see where The Weeknd and their contemporaries can push the genre. You can get a free download “House of Ballons” here.