Weeknd’s vocal talents shine on debut studio albumPosted on September 11, 2013 | by Peter Slattery
“Kiss Land” is the debut studio album by Canadian singer Abel Tesfaye, also known as The Weeknd. Following three critically acclaimed mixtapes in 2011 (“House of Balloons,” “Thursday” and “Echoes of Silence”) and a 2012 remastered compilation project of that series called “Trilogy,” “Kiss Land” may be The Weeknd’s most expansive and ambitious project yet.
The album includes some of the same sonic elements of Tesfaye’s previous work, most notably featuring his exquisite falsetto voice over a dark palette of echoing R&B beats. However, where his earlier work tended to lean toward simpler, lo-fi production, “Kiss Land” features far more layered, spacious, hi-fi production. In particular, “The Town” unloads powerful synth chords to set the tone of the project, while the string melody of “Belong to the World” fills the album’s core.
In a July 2013 interview with Complex magazine, Tesfaye described “Kiss Land” as “an environment that’s just honest fear.” The album does sound dark and mysterious, but Tesfaye himself is not particularly scared. His voice is featured so prominently with such gargantuan backing beats and powerful, crisp percussion that “Kiss Land” often sounds more triumphant than fearful.
In the beginning of “Belong To The World,” we hear gentle rain, birdsong and a muffled jaguar growl. The album’s title track is punctuated with amusement park screams. Undulating, looped vocal samples in the background of “Professional” feel almost like they are breathing. These subtle details pull the listener in, making “Kiss Land” a visceral experience. But the album actually lacks the interesting idiosyncrasies of the singer’s previous work. Tesfaye’s voice and lyrics aren’t lost in the echoes of his music anymore — they elevate the surreal music rather than drowning in the sound.
The new style is not necessarily a bad choice — the spotlight given to The Weeknd’s vocals allows Tesfaye to flex his chops with a variety of styles on different tracks. While still singing in a falsetto, his voice rises from a fluttering whisper on “Professional” to a Michael Jackson-esque croon on “Wanderlust.”
Lyrically, motifs focus on sex, loneliness, drugs, floundering misogyny and the nostalgic oddities of touring life, but it lacks the promised horror on “Kiss Land.” His lyrics possess an ominous edge but they’re far from sinister. Most of the time, the album’s tracks actually feel pretty human, each a differently misted window into the life of an imperfect artist and his emotions.
The sound of “Kiss Land” isn’t immediately accessible, especially compared to The Weeknd’s R&B contemporaries. But The Weeknd makes for atypical R&B — “Kiss Land” is devoid of staple sing-along choruses, earworm melodies or even a clear single. “Kiss Land” isn’t quite a defining step for Tesfaye, but it’s a compelling and sonically stimulating listen with polished production and excellent vocals.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Sept. 11 print edition. Peter Slattery is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.