Though there was barely a whisper even a week ago about what The Weeknd had been up to outside of his extensive touring, he’s managed to spin out an EP that no one saw coming. While many artists have started leaning on EPs as a way to keep their albums coming and stay affordable, Abel Tesfaye reminds us that it can also be the grounds for a small contained story. As he brings in sounds from across his career, Tesfaye tells a powerful story of heartbreak, moving on and where you find yourself after everything’s over.
Through the shadowy energy of “Call Out My Name” Tesfaye merges the writing of his early work with the experimental production that he’s slowly grown into. The track really slow-burns its release of utter distress, and makes each chorus a moment you can barely bear waiting for anymore. It’s the climactic distortion that Tesfaye blasts his voice through in the final chorus that makes it really take off. Even with all the boisterous performances in each chorus however, he really digs deep into his lyricism on each verse to keep them from feeling like filler.
Alternatively the more explorative sound-work comes through on “Try Me” as Tesfaye laments the later emotional aftermath of a breakup. Though the track never really manages the same dynamic range that makes “Call Out My Name” seem to grow endlessly, it layers Tesfaye’s vocals in intricate and hypnotic ways. Regardless of how you interpret this song and album in respect to Tesfaye’s fallout with Selena Gomez, he brings a raw emotion to this heartbreak that’s often watered down by many of his contemporaries.
The unusual beats of “Wasted Times” keep it flowing with a lot more direction than “Try Me” as Tesfaye” seems to be finding his own sort of movement. Tesfaye’s dreamy interpretation of a club beat, transports the song to the disorienting atmosphere of a club and really gives a sense of place to the track. It never quite has the same standout effect of many of the tracks on the record, meaning it will likely take repeated listens to appreciate its dance value.
“I Was There” immerses Tesfaye in heavy clouds of bass and lets his vocals dance in a weird mix of harmony and discordant conversations. This creates tiny arguments with his inner self that sees him growing through his own troubles and trying to become a better person. The trippy break the song takes blends the worlds of electronica and psychedelics almost out of nowhere, and creates a new but fitting energy in the track. The emotional care that’s placed through each of these moments keeps it all coherent however, and Tesfaye’s iconic power shouts really make the album feel like a return to form.
Tesfaye’s visual lyricism gives “Hurt You” a real sense of depth that lets listeners hold on for the slow release of beauty in the heavily detailed production. As Tesfaye sings at his most vulnerable and small, he brings a real power to pop and lets his music speak what he can’t put into words.
In the final realizations of “Privilege” there’s a spiritual energy to Tesfaye’s vocal distortion, as his blunt words tell a deep but familiar stories to lovers that have spun out of control. Merging energies of a thematic interlude into a devastating pop structure, the song really transcends both sides of his sound to be a powerful closer to the record.
Words by Owen Maxwell