The Weeknd believes in the allure of mystery. His career started in anonymity, a seductive voice singing from the shadows. Revealing his face and steadily transforming into a pop star didn’t suddenly make Abel Tesfaye a Jonas Brother―the Canadian-born singer continued to move with an air of secrecy.
True to his stealthy nature, The Weeknd has suddenly reappeared with a new six-track EP, entitled My Dear Melancholy,. In a post-Beyoncé surprise release era, there’s power in keeping a secret up until the moment of liberation.
The Weeknd’s mysterious aesthetic is showcased on the project's cover art, a tactic that has yet to feel banal or boring. On the cusp of spring, the King of the Fall reminds us all how well he understands the art of visual intrigue.
With few details and an eagerness to know what he’s been quietly creating, there’s nothing left to do but press play and enter the shadows. In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
New Weeknd just in time for the weekend.
1. "Call Out My Name"
I like how all the song titles are ordinary phrases you'd hear during episodes of Maury. Piano. Sad keys. The man of the hour appears with sultry vocals. Soft, distant, like he’s singing to us from a place of vulnerability. There’s regret in this story about some unnamed girl that he’s giving his all to. Getting Vampire Abel instead of the pop star who dominated Starboy. A rather depressed vampire.
The buildup is taking its sweet time. There’s no rush. Drums just crashed harder than giant meatballs raining from the sky. Weeknd promises to arrive if you call his name, R&B’s Beetlejuice. There's a lot of passion in these vocals. There’s a punch to the production, an aching in the pulsing thump. Abel is deep in his emotions. The infatuation weighs a ton. I’m almost certain he recorded this in Marvin’s Room. Begging a woman to stay who wants to leave; someone has talons in the Starboy’s heart. Hearing some interesting vocal effects.
A rather straightforward, strong beginning. Thick bass and haunting harmonies. The mood is true to the album title. The Weeknd, the master of melancholy.
2. "Try Me"
Another soft beginning. It didn’t last long. A nice boom from the 808s and the patter of hi-hats. I really like the production. It sounds like there's some kind of electric guitar riff hovering in the back. Not sure, though. Pitch black is the only color I’m getting from the music. Even Abel’s vocals recline into the darkness. This hook will be repeated at concerts in bleak unison. It’s like he’s swimming in a sea made black by Ursula. Shouts to all the lil mermaids.
Seems reminiscent of Kiss Land upon first listen. This isn’t Abel doing Michael Jackson cover songs; he has tapped back into his original voice. I’m a little underwhelmed by “Try Me.” It hits all the standards expected of Abel but doesn’t exceed them in any way. Loving the breakdown at the end. Guitars just add magic to Abel records. I can see it growing on me but it's not an early favorite.
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3. "Wasted Times"
Crazy to hear The Weeknd sing with such remorse. What happened? I can’t believe this is the same guy who made “Party After the Party.” Growth is real, man. Apologetic, post-cheating simp music. The combination of his voice and the production’s minimalistic bounce is a winner. Abel isn’t overdressing his sound, it’s very simplistic and stark. There’s no meaty overproduction. This is the one. There’s a touch of Timbo’s influence, I can imagine this is the kind of beat Aaliyah would rock to in 2018.
I can always count on The Weeknd to deliver an after-hours banger. Music for when the owls are hungry and you’re deep in your feelings and need to hear someone just sing your frustrations. A slight vocal adjustment. A trick he hasn’t pulled much of since Echoes of Silence. A nice touch. He sounds great. Emotional. Crumbling by the weight of all his regrets and faults. I’ve found my favorite. "I don't want to wake up if you aren't laying next to me" sounds like Abel is taking songs from 2013 Drake.
4. "I Was Never There" ft. Gesaffelstein
Lively! This sounds like a siren has been pitched a few octaves lower than a dog whistle. Woozy. I feel like I’ve entered a door that wasn’t meant to be open. The drums are slow and haunting. Dracula’s castle background music. I like how The Weeknd returned to his mixtape style of mixing. His vocals aren’t pop clean. If you listen to his recent full-length studio albums, he vocally sounds like a scientist genetically enhanced his singing to be clean as a unicorn bathing in Lake Minnetonka.
He’s much more authentic when there's some dirt left, singing from the debris of broken hearts and not the comfort of his home. Breakdown. Dramatic but enticing. I like how this project sonically feels like it’s collapsing. The music, much like Abel’s singing, is selling this idea of a crumbling love. He’s hurt or has hurt someone, and everything is falling apart. A true love story.
5. "Hurt You" ft. Gesaffelstein
The Weeknd starts the song by saying relationships are his enemy. What stage of heartbreak is such a sentiment? I can understand one or two failed flames, but to consider all relationships a nemesis is extreme. The most uptempo song so far, yet the lyrics are very dreary. This EP will give old fans a reason to rejoice. There’s so much nostalgia in all this new music. This might be the first song where people will dance to the words “I don’t want to hurt you.” He passionately repeats them so you feel every note. Nice vocal at the end. Both Gesaffelstein features have these intruder sirens that make me feel like a spy who was suddenly discovered. The Weeknd would make an excellent villain in a James Bond film.
Last song. Boy, was this quick. Soft opening. Muted keys. It's like they were recorded while someone played the piano underground. “Enjoy your privileged life.” My Dear Melancholy, is undoubtedly an album born from a breakup. It’s dark, filled with the fresh wound of a love lost. Is he mentioning pills? Oh, this is the stage of the breakup where you fill up with an overindulgence of vices. He’s trying to drink it away, but Solange already told us that doesn't work. Some people just don’t listen. Very stripped-down production. Bones-bare. Not much more than an outro that’s simultaneously the final goodbye to a relationship. Well, that’s that.
Twenty-two minutes is a small window of time for an artist to make a statement. While My Dear Melancholy, is The Weeknd’s shortest project to date, there’s a lot to like in the ephemeral EP. Unlike Starboy, the behemoth 18-song album, My Dear Melancholy, doesn’t overwhelm with a broad palette of sounds and styles. It’s musically cohesive, the songs are attached to a shared presence in the darkness. This is music created in rooms where little light could enter; an alternate reality where the moon reigns over clouds and stars, and the sun never rises.
Thematically, The Weeknd’s songwriting doesn’t stray from regret, remorse, and reflection. I’m used to Abel being wild, careless, and insensitive to the unnamed women he loves and discards. The muse who inspired these songs truly left a mark on the heart of a heartbreaker. As a singer, there’s nothing new under these notes. It’s not until the EP’s outro, “Privilege,” that drugs, drinking, and unattached sex are mentioned. They are not boasts but rather a method of coping. The Weeknd is hurt, and he sells this hurt in ways that feel very rare to his artistry.
I wouldn’t consider My Dear Melancholy, the return of old The Weeknd. There’s nostalgia, but it’s not comparable to House of Balloons or Echoes of Silence. What it allows is The Weeknd to shed his pop-star brightness and return to the late night. It’s where his kingdom was built, and where his music has always thrived.
He may be a Starboy, but he was born to sing in the darkness.
By Yoh, aka My Dear Yohlancholy, aka @Yoh31.