If you’re the type who related to The Weeknd’s House Of Balloons mixtape in any real way, there’s a good chance you were just getting your evening started when Abel Tesfaye dropped its long-promised follow-up Thursday at around 11 PM EST last night. An extension of collaborator and co-signer Drake’s lush, emotionally conflicted hybrid of R&B, downtempo hip-hop and indie rock affectations — maybe the sonic embodiment of codeine syrup in a champagne flute — it was perhaps the most thorough negation of elegant wastefulness since Pulp’s This Is Hardcore. And yet Tefsaye never seemed to share Jarvis Cocker’s self-reckoning. Balloons was more or less a series of ornate dioramas of amorality where all of the typical pitfalls of excess –- rock star lines of cocaine, codependent women, stacks of money -– weren’t even used to symbolize the depths of spiritual emptiness. While Drake (who shows up on “The Zone”) often illustrates the polarity of this lifestyle (“Up All Night” on one end, “Marvin’s Room” on the other), The Weeknd’s state of mind often scan somewhere between boredom and mild amusement. As Tefsaye matter-of-factly half-rapped on “Glass Table Girls,” “this just how we fuckin’ live it.”
And now comes the simply but provocatively named Thursday — a day that for most serves as the last line of defense between functionality and a life consumed by vice. And fittingly, Tesfaye follows “What You Need” by basically saying “How much of this do you need?” While maintaining the same glazed demeanor and lyrical pronouncement of near-acceptable predatory behavior, Thursday is harder and yet more diffuse, the zombies that drank Alize with no cereal for breakfast getting their third wind. “The Party and the After Party” (one of their previous two songs to sample Beach House) doesn’t even cut it — the party never really started or ended. Needless to say, the production remains incredible, and if you’re listening to this at work, I imagine it’s tough not to think about how this will fit into your Friday night plans. The tweaks are evident from the get-go, with grinding guitar and Mannie Fresh drum rattle adding a crucial abrasion to “Lonely Star” and “Life Of The Party” skulking with a rock steady beat embroidered with chippy cymbals. Is Tesfaye knowingly winking at the indie crowd with a song called “Heaven Or Las Vegas” that isn’t a Cocteau Twins cover? Up for debate, but it ends Thursday by diving even further into hard rock texture.
Which is fitting since you can sense things starting to fray: even as they move towards a sound that would sound perfectly at home on satellite radio, the melodies are looser, the songs less tethered to typical structure (his Weaknss is a tendency to let a track drift to seven minutes when four would conceivably do). Even moreso than last time, if you aren’t in the specific mood or on the specific drugs that Tesfaye surrounds himself with, it can be a tough 50 minutes to take in all at once. While House Of Balloons often felt like it was numbing itself, Thursday is where Tesfaye is starting to crack both sonically and emotionally, the brute force of guitars and an avoidance of hooks conceivably serving as a different kind of defense mechanism, whether towards women or the encroaching attention of the mainstream. With a third mixtape (Echoes Of Silence) already promised by the end of the year, it’ll be fascinating to see whether Tesfaye retreats further into decadence or hits a true spiritual bottom. [Download Thursday here.]