Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: The Weeknd – Dawn FM

Dawn FM proves once again that this ’80s synth-heavy sound feels extremely natural for The Weeknd

Arguably one of, if not the biggest popstar in the world, The Weeknd is fresh off the release of his fifth studio album Dawn FM. The Toronto native is back after a massively successful last two years. He most notably released the biggest album of 2020: After Hours, which received an incredible reception, both commercially and critically. Despite getting snubbed by the Grammys in 2021 (don’t get me started on this) he headlined the Super Bowl Halftime Show, a feat only few artists have the chance to achieve. 

Dawn FM is a continuation of the sound The Weeknd was popularizing on After Hours, with its ’80s inspired instrumentals, synth-pop infused melodies and some of the catchiest songs he has ever put out. 

Dawn FM is a radio station themed album narrated by none other than Jim Carrey, the radio announcer of “the number one station to free your soul: Dawn 103.5,” as The Weeknd mentions at the end of “Here We Go… Again” featuring Tyler, The Creator. Carrey appears on multiple occasions, whether he is making advertisements on “Every Angel Is Terrifying” or having his own closing monologue on “Phantom Regret by Jim,” his presence on the record really reinforces its radio themes.

Since Dawn FM is presented as a radio show, it flows exceptionally well together and is filled with flawless transitions between songs. The transitions are so immaculate that someone who doesn’t look at the song titles could easily think it’s one long song; for instance, the progression between the energetic “How Do I Make You Love Me?” to the Daft Punk influenced “Take My Breath.” It even took me at least seven listens to realize “Starry Eyes’” is a song on its own and not the outro to “Is There Someone Else?” For all of those reasons, it is significantly better to listen to this record in one sitting, rather than listening to certain tracks on their own.

Despite some songs not quite hitting the mark, like the bland “Gasoline” and “Don’t Break My Heart,” The Weeknd still manages to provide some ridiculously infectious tunes. Songs like “Out of Time,” “Less Than Zero” and “Best Friends” are key tracks that are a big reason why Dawn FM is so accessible. This album is perfect to dance to, but is also perfect to cook and clean to. Whether you’re nine or 99, it is hard to resist the captivating nostalgic electronic sound of Dawn FM.

Days after the release, The Weeknd announced that there was going to be a trilogy and if After Hours and Dawn FM are the first two installments, I simply cannot wait for the third one.

Score : 7.5/10

Trial track: “Out of Time”

 

[spotifyplaybutton play=”https://open.spotify.com/track/2SLwbpExuoBDZBpjfefCtV?si=6d5b13b062e64ca9″] 

 

Categories
Music

A decade of XO: House of Balloons at 10

The Weeknd has been on a historic run for a decade now, and his groundbreaking 2011 mixtape is its origin.

In 2021, The Weeknd is inescapable. He’s one of the world’s biggest stars and a bona fide pop culture icon. Fresh off of an explosive Super Bowl halftime show just last month, his hit single “Blinding Lights” just became the only song to spend a whole year in Billboard’s top ten. You can’t go a day without hearing his music or seeing his face on a social feed or TV screen.

This is a stark contrast to where he was just a decade ago. In 2011, that inescapable name was just the moniker for Abel Tesfaye, a faceless, enigmatic artist from Toronto. Even as he made a home for himself on the front page of many popular music blogs, nobody knew his real name, nobody knew what he looked like, nobody knew who he was. All they knew was that he’d released House of Balloons, and that was enough.

House of Balloons, Tesfaye’s alternative R&B opus, was one of two projects to completely shift the tide of the genre at the time, the other being Frank Ocean’s nostalgia, ULTRA. It was unlike anything out at the time, defied almost all of popular R&B’s conventions, and changed everything.

Whereas a lot of the popular R&B music of the time was pop-tinged and upbeat, or fit into the genre’s more traditional, romantic and sensual slow jams, Tesfaye was operating in a lane completely his own. House of Balloons is dark and perpetually nihilistic, fueled by drugs and drenched in sadism, and presented a reality that was as far from R&B’s “norm” as possible.

Sonically, this album’s soundscape paired perfectly with the dark themes and content that Tesfaye presented in his lyrics. On top of that, it was just as far from any pre-existing norms and conventions within the genre. It was moody, atmospheric and borderline psychedelic at its darkest, matching Tesfaye’s despair and drug-addled party-laden lifestyle, and at its brightest feeling like the high that he’s chasing.

From the outset, this album strikes this balance. Its intro, “High for This,” is dark and eerie, with Tesfaye welcoming the listener to his lifestyle as the song crescendos to its booming, bass-heavy chorus. It sets the tone perfectly for the drugged-out odyssey that the listener is about to embark on.

And it proved to be just that. Every song on this album fits that journey without ever feeling like you’re hearing the same song twice. From the airy and ethereal “The Morning” to the bleak and depressing “Wicked Games” to the wildly experimental two-part track “House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls,” every song here serves a purpose.

It’s for these reasons that House of Balloons has gone on to be as influential as it has. Everybody from Bryson Tiller, Lil Uzi Vert, and even Drake have been deeply influenced by this project and the other two mixtapes in Tesfaye’s trilogy. It was a game-changer and has remained one of his best projects to this day, a flawless collection of tracks that, after ten years, not only holds up but is a clear-cut classic.

 

Categories
Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the Super Bowl LV champions

Tom Brady wins his seventh title as the Buccaneers dominate the Chiefs

Following an entertaining Conference Championship weekend, the National Football League (NFL) couldn’t have asked for a better Super Bowl matchup outcome on Feb. 7, as defending champions Kansas City Chiefs faced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

What was a highly touted competitive matchup on paper ended up being a one-sided affair, as the Buccaneers won the franchise’s second Super Bowl title in a seemingly effortless 31-9 victory over the favoured Chiefs.

Tampa Bay’s quarterback Tom Brady threw for 209 yards and three touchdowns in an MVP performance that will be immortalized alongside his countless other career accolades. In winning his seventh Super Bowl, the superstar further cemented himself as the most accomplished player to ever grace the sport.

Brady’s seventh ring gives him more titles than any NFL franchise. His previous six were with the New England Patriots, who remain tied for first with the Pittsburgh Steelers with six championships.

Meanwhile, the NFL’s undisputed quarterback of the future Patrick Mahomes struggled all night, throwing for 270 yards and a couple of interceptions. More notably, Mahomes was sacked three times and was held to zero touchdowns for the first time in the 2020–21 season.

Brady will get most of the attention for winning the game for his team as quarterbacks typically do — and rightfully so. However, it was Tampa Bay’s defence, orchestrated by defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, that set the tone of the game early.

Throughout the 2020–21 regular season and playoffs, the Buccaneers struggled at times on offence, but had the benefit of playing alongside a consistent and authoritative defence. As growing pains eventually settled as the weeks went by, everything emphatically culminated on Sunday in their dominating two-way performance against the offensively inclined Chiefs.

The game began and ended at the line of scrimmage, as Kansas City’s offensive line was unquestionably the weakest link in the team’s otherwise potent attack throughout the season. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, one of the Chiefs’ starting guards, was the first player to opt out of the 2020 NFL season due to COVID-19 concerns. Additional injuries to Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz forced the Chiefs to heavily rely on backups and late-season waiver wire acquisitions to protect Mahomes.

On the other end of the field, the Buccaneers’ defence was able to employ a simple yet effective strategy that took the most influential players on the Chiefs’ roster out of the game.

Bowles and the Buccaneers rarely blitzed Mahomes, realizing that the team’s pass rushers and tackles alone could generate pressure with their inherent mismatch. The Buccaneers also had at least two safeties deep downfield for much of the game, making it problematic for Mahomes to connect with his ludicrously fast wide receiver Tyreek Hill while he was constantly showered with double-teams.

On paper, superstars Hill and tight end Travis Kelce ended the game with decent counting statistics, but failed to make their emblematic game-breaking plays.

Despite the somewhat disappointing lack of competition on the field, Super Bowl LV will go down in history for dispelling out-dated American sports standards and breaking barriers.

Kansas City’s assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar became the first women to win Super Bowl rings as part of a coaching staff. Meanwhile, no other team in the league has more than one woman coach.

NFL official Sarah Thomas also became the first woman to referee a Super Bowl. On Sunday, the league took a significant step in the right direction towards gender diversity and inclusivity.

In addition, the Weeknd made his fair share of history by becoming the first solo Canadian artist to headline the Super Bowl halftime show. The Toronto-native, sporting his signature red blazer, performed songs spanning his entire career, ranging from “House of Balloons” from his 2011 debut mixtape, to his 2020 hit, “Blinding Lights.”

Despite several COVID-19-related setbacks, the Weeknd achieved Super Bowl greatness in his memorable and flamboyant performance alongside Thomas, Javadifar, Locust, and the Buccaneers.

Amidst a shower of confetti, Brady was asked during the post-game celebration if he would be returning next season following another unprecedented championship. The 43-year-old, coming off his most lopsided Super Bowl win to date, kept his answer short and sweet.

“I’m coming back, you already know that,” Brady said.

 

Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Categories
Music

Is this the end of the Grammys?

This year’s nominations reveal an industry struggling to reflect the pulse of contemporary music.

Whenever award show nominations are announced you can expect controversy. Especially in recent years as the general public (i.e. white people) have become more aware of systemic racism in the music industry, which manifests itself at award shows. Think Beyoncé losing album of the year to both Adele and Beck, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly losing to Taylor Swift’s 1989, or Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE losing to Mumford & Sons.

But the nominations for the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards are outright confusing.

In the general category, which holds the most prestigious awards, there were the expected nominees: Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, Post Malone, Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, but nominees also included Black Pumas, Coldplay, Jacob Collier, and Noah Cyrus. While Coldplay is a recognizable and successful group, it’s safe to say their relevance has diminished in recent years and their 2019 album Everyday Life flew a bit under the radar. Noah Cyrus is also a name many might recognize, albeit perhaps due to nepotism more than her actual music. Black Pumas has a, “relatively low commercial profile” and “negligible critical profile” as Jon Caramanica put in in The New York Times. You’ve probably never heard of Jacob Collier but he’s already won four Grammys for arranging.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to throw in some more unconventional or unknown nominees, of course. However, these kinds of choices become more questionable when you realize who wasn’t nominated: The Weeknd.

Despite having one of the best-selling and most critically acclaimed albums of the year, and a massively successful single, he didn’t get a single nomination. This makes The Weeknd the most snubbed artist of the year.

For some perspective, Justin Bieber’s “Yummy” got a nomination. Bieber actually scored four nominations despite his album Changes being met with negative reviews from critics. On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, it received a score of 57 compared to The Weeknd’s 2020 album After Hours’ 80.

Many have theorized that The Weeknd might have been snubbed because of his Superbowl performance, which will air on the same network a week after the Grammys. Another theory is that After Hours was snubbed because it is a distinctly pop album and the Grammys prefer to put Black artists in R&B, urban, and hip hop categories. Notably, in 2020, Tyler, the Creator criticized the Grammys for placing “guys that look like me” in rap and urban categories.

After the nominations were announced, The Weeknd spoke out on Twitter saying, “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…”

Halsey, who received 0 nominations for her album Manic, said in an Instagram story, “The Grammys are an elusive process. It can often be about behind the scenes private performances, knowing the right people, campaigning through the grapevine — with the right handshakes and ‘bribes’ that can be just ambiguous enough to pass as ‘not-bribes.'”

Nicki Minaj also took to Twitter saying, “Never forget the Grammys didn’t give me my best new artist award when I had seven songs simultaneously charting on billboard & bigger first week than any female rapper in the last decade- went on to inspire a generation. They gave it to the white man Bon Iver.”

Though the Chairman and Interim President/CEO of the Recording Academy claimed that the nominees would “reflect diversity of race, gender, age, region, and musical genre,” during the nominee announcement, it seems like the Grammys just decided to nominate Korean band BTS and call it a day.

Though this makes BTS the first South Korean act to be nominated for their music (after they were nominated for Best Recording Package in 2018), BTS was only nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for their song “Dynamite” which was coincidentally their first all-English song. Their album Map of the Soul: 7, which received a score of 82 from Metacritic, was named by Rolling Stone as one of the best albums of 2020, and had over four million pre-orders, received 0 nominations.

It seems the Recording Academy thought nominating one Korean group, Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, DaBaby, and Beyoncé would be enough to appease their growing list of critics, but the tokenism and performative diversity fell flat on its face.

The Recording Academy has repeatedly failed to be as “diverse” and “inclusive” as it claims to be, and to recognize music that is actually, by all measures, good and popular. This is hurting their credibility and relevance. If things don’t change I think the Grammys will be totally obsolete in the next few years.

Why should I even care about the Grammys? Are these awards really necessary? How does this contribute value to the lives and careers of musicians or to our culture?

These are questions the Recording Academy might want to consider.

 

Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Categories
Music

The Concordian’s albums of the year

The Concordian staff chooses their favourite albums of the year

Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher 

Louis Pavlakos – Music Editor

2020 has been an absolute mess of a year but thankfully our Lord and Saviour Phoebe Bridgers saved us with one of the most beautifully produced and deeply introspective albums of the year in the form of Punisher. From the sombre “Garden Song” to the explosive finale of “I Know the End,” Bridgers sings with a soft pain in her voice that echoes the brutality that this year has been. It sounds eerily apocalyptic — in tune with what’s been going on in the world. Truthfully there hasn’t been an album I’ve played more than this one. It’s peak “sad boy hours” music and I haven’t felt this way about an LP since Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Punisher is that good. Shoutout to Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist’s Alfredo, The Weeknd’s After Hours, Mac Miller’s Circles and Moses Sumney’s Grae, though.

Eternal Champion – Ravening Iron

Hunter Walwaski – Copy Editor

My fascination with metal music has naturally driven me to the darkest bowels of the genre, trying to find the noisiest and most ear-pummeling records ever released. Yet, as 2020 has already introduced far too much of that on its own, my ears have been longing for something a little more catchy and fun. Eternal Champion’s sophomore release, Ravening Iron, is the answer to my beckoning call. The album’s cheesy epic heavy metal concoction, filled with earworm riffs, glorious mighty vocals, and brotherhood chants, is exactly what listeners need to trudge through this pitiful time. Now grab your sword, turn Eternal Champion up to 11, and make 2021 your year.

Mac Miller – Circles

Maggie Morris – Head Copy Editor

When this album was released posthumously in January, it satisfied something I never thought I’d hear again: new music by one of my favourite artists. Not only is it a well fleshed-out album despite the circumstances, but it’s hauntingly beautiful. Mac lives on through these songs and I’m so, so grateful for it.

(Honourable mention to Taylor Swift’s Folklore which also came at a time where I desperately needed new music — unfortunately for my boyfriend it coincided with the week we started our camping road trip through Gaspésie).

Mac Miller – Circles

Victor Vigas – Staff Writer

Mac Miller was always evolving his style and that’s what Circles gave listeners, an evolution. After Swimming showed fans that Mac wasn’t afraid of singing as opposed to rapping, Circles sees Mac singing throughout most of the album with his limited vocal range. For a posthumous release this is as good as it gets, Jon Brion executed the production and tracklist on this album to perfection. Even though Mac never lived to see this album reach the light of day, a lot of the lyrics on this album make you feel like he’s still here, almost as though he’s winking at us through the music. Aside from the lyrics, this album is a different sound than what I’ve come to love about Mac. It relies more on synth and instruments such as guitar, bass, xylophone and drums are all prominently audible. Apart from the quality of the album itself, as a Mac Miller fan, I can say that this is a fitting sign off to Mac’s legacy.

Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind 

Adam Mbowe – Video Editor

I’ve loved Yves Tumor since their debut album Serpent Music, but when this album was released I developed an even greater appreciation for their work. From noise to ambiance to soul, Yves Tumor’s work tends to explore and blend a plethora of genres. Heaven to a Tortured Mind delves into the genre of rock with gentle ease yet is still reminiscent of all of Yves Tumors’ previous work. There are too many great songs to choose from but standouts on the album for me are “A Greater Love” and “Dream Palette”.

J Balvin – Colores

Alec Brideau – Sports Editor

I was already a huge J Balvin fan before the release of this album. Colores was, in my opinion, simply awesome. Each song on the album is named after a colour, and each song’s topic is based on its colour. It was simple, but original. I enjoyed every song and it felt like they all had their little “something.” The album’s videos are also really representative of the colours and their meanings. I really appreciated what J Balvin did there, and he exceeded my expectations by far with this album.

Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Abigail Candelora – Copy Editor

Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters was my favourite album of the year. It felt oddly apropos, this year of all years, to get a new album from Fiona, a musician I admire for many reasons — including how much she prefers to be at home. Her songs are unrestricted and expressive and honest; I don’t think there’s a bad song on the album, and I’m definitely not the only one. This album is great company. Definitely give it a listen!

Kate Bollinger – A word becomes a sound

Lily Cowper – Production Assistant

I’ve pretty much retired from keeping tabs on the music scene but one great album that came out this year was Kate Bollinger’s A word becomes a sound. I know Bollinger through a friend at University of Virginia, where she first started playing and gained traction in the last few years. “A Couple Things” is my favourite track and I promise all the songs will make you tingle if you are an ASMR-loving freak. However good this album is, I need to be honest; I have only been listening to Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On” on repeat since March, to keep the mood light.

HMLTD – West of Eden

Aviva Majerczyk – Commentary Editor

West of Eden sounds like the coolest party you’ve ever been invited to. On this album, HMLTD’s glitzy gothic glam rock is in full effect, with a mix of 80s-inspired radio-friendly dance beats, as well as a couple slow-burners. The lyrics of West of Eden hold no punches either. The fist track of the album, “The West is Dead,” is a cutting critique of far-right ideology, where the band kills all these artifacts we problematically consider “western culture.” The following songs maintain that same eerie almost apocalyptic tone. Even on tracks like “Satan, Luella, and I” and “Blank Slate,” HMLTD are able to package intensely dark tones with danceable tunes. If you’re looking to have fun during this current apocalyptic hellscape, this album is definitely worth a listen!

The Weeknd – After Hours

Wesley McLean – Assistant Music Editor

Ever since Abel Tesfaye launched into pop superstardom, he’s always tried to bridge the gap between his two worlds: the melancholic and hedonistic tone of his pioneering mixtape trilogy, and the universal appeal of the pop hits that made The Weeknd a household name. After Hours is the first time he has been able to fully realize this vision, and it’s a glorious and extremely cinematic experience. The unique blend of new wave, synthpop, R&B and electronic sounds serve as the perfect score for Tesfaye as he melodically croons through tales of excess, self-loathing and loneliness. It’s an album that’s grandiose sound would fit perfectly in a sold-out stadium, but its content still lends itself to binge-listening on a lonely night at home, and it’s definitely an album that warrants several GRAMMY nominations.

(It was extremely hard to narrow it down to one album this year, so it’s essentially a four-way tie between this, Mac Miller’s Circles, Andy Shauf’s Neon Skyline and Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher for my AOTY).

The Weeknd – After Hours

Jacob Carey – Managing Editor

I hate to piggyback on Wesley’s album of the year, but you have to give credit where credit is due. While After Hours isn’t even the best album in the Weeknd’s discography, it is certainly one of the best albums of this year. And, it’s actually gotten better with time. The amount of hits that have come out of that album is ridiculously impressive, with “Blinding Lights” being one of the most successful songs in Billboard history. The Weeknd also needs credit for remaining in character all damn year, in his signature burgundy suit and banged up face — either from a street brawl or fresh plastic surgery. Regardless, some of the tunes deriving from this album will be club singalongs for years to come, as will a large majority of The Weeknd’s constantly evolving discography.

Don Toliver – Heaven or Hell

Juliette Palin – News Editor

This album provided me with all the trap moments I needed during quarantine. Fittingly, it was released on a day we will all remember as an infamous one: March 13, 2020. With a mix of well-written raps and R&B, it has been phenomenally successful. It had roaring success, in part due to the release of the album JACKBOYS, a collaboration between a group of rappers featuring Travis Scott, his DJ, Chase B, Sheck Wes, Don Toliver, and Luxury Tax. This album features some of the same songs as Heaven or Hell. I highly recommend listening to this album in your car on full blast, specifically “Company,” “Had Enough,” featuring Quavo and Offset, and — a classic — “No Idea.”  Don Toliver is one of the biggest breakout artists of 2020.

I Don’t Know How But They Found Me – Razzmatazz

Elyette Levy – Assistant Commentary Editor

IDKHow is a music duo spearheaded by two members of one of my favourite bands of all time, the now-defunct The Brobecks. I discovered them while I was in high school, and I have no shame in saying they stood by me through the entirety of my emo phase. I even spent over $50 for a CD of one of their older albums on eBay (in my defence, those albums are super rare). You can imagine my reaction when I found out about the creation of IDKHow; let’s just say I was ready to take out the black pencil eyeliner again. Razzmatazz is the band’s first studio album, a long-awaited work since their first EP came out in 2018. Adding a colourful modern indie twist to the members’ 2010s pop-punk attitude, the album blends youthfulness with nostalgia, electricity with emotivity. As a cheeky nod to their Brobecks days, they include a re-recorded version of their previously unreleased “Cluster Hug.” Beautiful chord combinations, poetic excellence, choice topics that range from politics to family; IDKHow gives us everything in this album.

Categories
Sports

Heading towards a slightly different Super Bowl

COVID-19 restrictions might have their impacts on the upcoming Super Bowl LV

With the current National Football League (NFL) season being played as normally scheduled, the league is preparing its next Super Bowl event, which will be held at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida.

The latest updates say that fans will fill 20 per cent of the stadium’s capacity. However, it’s still early to come to conclusions, as the Super Bowl LV will be played on Feb. 7, 2021. Things might change again for the next edition of the football world’s biggest event, and one of sports’ most-watched annual games.

The NFL announced on Nov. 12 that singer The Weeknd will lead its halftime show. The announcement didn’t include anything about additional singers or pandemic restrictions, but that makes it obvious that this year’s halftime show will be challenging with social distancing rules, especially if fans are around.

The Super Bowl has never faced a similar situation before, having to make its halftime show interesting without singers and dancers getting in contact with each other.

The two teams that will play the Super Bowl also won’t be known until just two weeks before the event, meaning supporters of the two finalist teams will only be able to buy their tickets and travel to Tampa Bay a few days before the game.

It will probably be hard to control such travel from fans, and make sure that all pandemic restrictions are being respected during this big event.

What’s certain is that the upcoming Super Bowl LV will be different, regardless of the teams playing and the final score. People probably won’t remember it for its noisy atmosphere, and sadly not for the traditional pregame tailgate parties, as there always are before NFL games. However, if the league manages to make the event happen properly and safely, it should still be considered a huge success.

 

Graphic by Rose-Marie Dion

Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Ariana Grande – Positions

With her third album in a little over two years, Grande brings forth a collection of sultry R&B jams that explore the complexities of romance and the power of healing.

Ariana Grande has been on an unprecedented run for the last few years. With the back-to-back releases of the excellent Sweetener and her magnum opus, thank u, next, the pop powerhouse has established herself as one of the biggest artists of her generation. With Grande’s latest project, her most mature and explicit yet, she takes her now-signature sound in a more sultry and sensual, R&B-influenced direction.

 With Positions, Grande explores the intricacies of navigating romance and intimacy, while searching for healing within herself. It’s a perspective of love that isn’t frequently heard in pop music, as it substitutes the genre’s standard, idealized notion of romance for a more flawed and human approach. It’s as if her past traumas are in a direct conflict with her desire to move on for the better and be happy.

Throughout the album, Grande ranges from guarded and indecisive to lustful or longing for a lost love. On the The Weeknd-assisted “off the table,” Grande reflects on a past relationship, questioning if she’ll ever be able to find a love like that which she once had. The Weeknd’s contribution sees him playing her potential partner, reassuring her that he’s grown and in a better place, and can cater to her needs better than before. It’s a fantastically written track and the pair’s vocals complement each other beautifully, especially in the mesmerizing moments in which they harmonize together.

One of the album’s biggest standouts is the 90s neo-soul/R&B-tinged “my hair.” Grande’s hair has been a massive part of her image throughout her career, and she sings about it as an extension of herself, not just physically, but emotionally as well. As she opens up to her partner, she welcomes them to run their fingers through it, noting that she never lets people touch it. It’s an alluring, conversational track with a silky-smooth instrumental that warms the soul, and as it reaches its climax, Grande’s whistling vocals close the track in glorious fashion.

The album’s closer, “pov,” is another fantastic moment on this album. The song plays like a love letter to her significant other, who loves Grande for exactly who she is, which is a love that she can only aspire to have for herself. It’s a song that serves to both acknowledge her love for this person, as well as desire to truly love herself, as she delivers about wanting to see and trust herself the way that they do. She delivers an extremely impassioned vocal performance over an instrumental that starts off subdued but continues to build with rattling hi-hats and swells of orchestral strings.

Though moments like this make Positions another fantastic addition to Grande’s discography, some moments keep it from reaching the bar set by her previous two releases. Songs like “nasty” and “just like magic” feel half-baked and extremely underwritten, with some of the lyrics being unfathomably bad (“wake up in my bed, I just wanna have a good day / think it in my head, then it happens how it should, ayy”). Moments like this are hard to believe considering the quality of the writing on Sweetener and thank u, next, as well as the rest of this album.

Another thing Grande’s fans might be surprised by is the lack of radio-ready singles on this album. Without a doubt, her popularity will push songs to the top of the charts, but the lack of a “thank u, next” or “God is a woman” is noticeable here. Though it doesn’t take away from how enjoyable a majority of the songs are, it’s still a notable absence.

While those aspects of the album are underwhelming, they’re easy to look past when surrounded by the truly fantastic moments that exist within the tracklist. Even with the inconsistencies that are present, this is a very good album and houses a couple of Grande’s best songs to date. Positions may not do much to expand on the sound and aesthetic that Grande established for herself on her last two releases, but it comfortably excels in the space that they created.

Rating: 7.8/10

Trial Track: my hair

Categories
Music

Protected by the mask: how remaining anonymous in music breathes new life into artistry

How does the rise of Orville Peck compare to Canada’s other elusive singer who rose in 2010?

Every so often, a new artist explodes overnight with the help of a viral single, but with little or no indication about who might have sung it. In 2017, a masked Canadian singer performing under the pseudonym Orville Peck released a single titled “Dead of Night,” a song that would eventually thrust the virtually unknown artist into country music stardom.

To this day, we still don’t know who Orville Peck actually is. We know a few things though. We know he’s older than 20 and younger than 40 and that he identifies as gay. Other than that, there’s only speculation about who he really is.

Really, though, it doesn’t matter. Once Peck released his debut album Pony in 2019 with the help of record label Sub Pop, the mystery that surrounded him made his music that much more enticing. With only a handful of official music videos up on YouTube, most are either over one million views or creeping up to it. These numbers aren’t stratospheric, but considering he’s an unknown Canadian gay country singer, it’s impressive that he’s garnered so much attention.

Though Orville Peck’s rise might seem either improbable or the likely result of a creative marketing team, his road to success is certainly precedented by other elusive singers. In 2010, a teenager whose identity was unknown at the time drew a lot of attention for the release of three different tracks on YouTube. These songs eventually fell on the ears of a certain Toronto legend who goes by the name of Drake and he then uploaded them on his October’s Very Own blog. By now, it’s probably obvious that this protégé is The Weeknd.

Unsurprisingly, the three songs took off. The tracks he posted, “The Morning,” “What You Need,” and “Loft Music” have now accumulated over one hundred million views combined, but when they were released, everyone became enamoured by this Michael Jackson-esque singer who doubled down on the drugged-out, hazy aesthetic he now knows all too well.

At this point, it’s common knowledge that The Weeknd’s real name is Abel Makkonen Tesfaye. And though he’s reached a new level of superstardom, there are still a handful of The Weeknd fans that won’t approach his new music with an open mind simply because he’s ditched the sound and look that he rose to fame with.

It’s true that The Weeknd’s music isn’t the same as his Trilogy days, but it’s also a sign of growth. Not every artist has to be a down-in-the-dumps-twenty-something that makes sad and dark music. But does this newfound happiness that sometimes appears in The Weeknd’s music make his work less palatable. The truth is, it depends.

For singers like Orville Peck, it’s possible that revealing his identity might not change much. His music doesn’t have the same pop sensibilities as The Weeknd, but his whole persona also revolves around the anonymity. It prevents the daily scrutiny that artists face about their personal lives.

Orville Peck and The Weeknd are, of course, not the only two artists to come up with anonymous personas. Daft Punk is notorious for always wearing their robotic helmets. Sia, SBTRKT, and MF Doom all perform with their own masks on. Slipknot’s latest addition to the band is a percussionist who masks himself with an attire not unlike Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow outfit from Batman Begins.

It’s clear that anonymity in music is more than just a commercial ploy. For relatively new artists, it allows them to bypass the media scrutiny that comes with a viral single. It allows the listener to fall in love with the music itself. That new fan will also become infatuated with the idea their new favourite singer might just be a common person like anyone else. They just so happen to make good music.

In an interview with the New York Times, Orville Peck explained that “[he understands] there is a temptation to try and unmask what [he does], but to do so would be to miss the point entirely.” He’s got a point. The whole idea behind Orville Peck is an artist who only wants to be known for his music and artistry. His anonymity is just a piece of the puzzle.

For some, anonymity is just a veil granted at the beginning of their career. A mask that lets them release music as they please. To others, the secrecy behind the music is just as important as the music itself. Given how obsessed fans have become in 2020 (see Nicki Minaj or Doja Cat’s rabid fanbases), it’s understandable why Orville Peck doesn’t want everyone to know who he is. He’s doing well as it is and he’s probably better off.

 

Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Categories
Music Quickspins

The Weeknd – Starboy

The Weeknd – Starboy (XO, 2016)

He’s a starboy and this is a star album. The Weeknd’s hit single “Starboy,” featuring Daft Punk, is addictive and its catchy beat matches perfectly with his pleasantly soft and melodious voice. In “True Colors,” we get to hear his more romantic and emotional side. It’s a beautiful song in which he asks that his lover be nothing but real with him. In “Die For You,” you can hear the emotion in his voice, making the song a deep and soulful listen. Lana Del Rey sings along blissfully on “Stargirl Interlude.” Her sad voice dives into a higher pitch and blends in harmoniously with The Weeknd’s verse. With high pitch electric guitar riffs in the background,“Sidewalks,” featuring Kendrick Lamar and Sam Smith is the highlight of the album. The Weeknd voices how the streets made him who he is. I must “say say say,” Kendrick and The Weeknd make a killer duo on this one. Starboy is exactly what you would expect and hope from The Weeknd.

Trial Track: “Sidewalks” featuring Kendrick Lamar & Sam Smith

8.5/10

Categories
Music

Mixtape: Osheaga 2012 – Festival preview

If you’ve never been to Osheaga, you don’t know what you’re missing. Heat, dehydration, screaming crowds, exhaustion and, most notably, a lineup of more than fifty amazing musicians playing at Jean-Drapeau Park for three long days. Despite the less-than-stellar conditions, Osheaga is the most anticipated summer event for any music-savvy Montrealer. This year between Aug. 3 to 5, twenty talented artists—along with many more—will flood our city and play for tens of thousands of people. With big names like Snoop Dogg, Feist, Florence and the Machine and Brand New, Osheaga is bound to be the best three days of your life. Festival passes are now on sale. Let this mixtape be your precursor to Montreal’s most anticipated summer weekend of 2012.

SIDE A: Homegrown, Canadiana

1. “Help, I’m Alive” – Metric – Fantasies
2. “My Moon My Man” – Feist – The Reminder
3. “Grind” – Down With Webster – Time to Win, Vol. 1
4. “We Found Each Other in the Dark” – City and Colour –  Little Hell
5. “A Song About California” – Hey Ocean! – It’s Easier to be Someone Else
6. “I Don’t Know” – The Sheepdogs – Learn & Burn
7. “Tom Cruz” – Plants and Animals – La La Land
8. “Cover Your Tracks” – Young Galaxy – Shapeshifting
9. “Journey of a Lifetime” – Zeds Dead – Single
10. “High for This” – The Weeknd – House of Balloons

SIDE B: Come from afar

11. “Mind Eraser” – The Black Keys – El Camino
12. “Drop it Like it’s Hot” – Snoop Dogg – R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece
13. “Howl” – Florence and the Machine – Lungs
14. “Kissing the Lipless” – The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow
15. “Electric Feel” – MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
16. “Helicopter” – Bloc Party – Little Thoughts (EP)
17. “Cough Syrup” – Young the Giant – Young the Giant
18. “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” – Brand New – Deja Entendu
19. “Jacqueline” – Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand
20. “Only Happy When it Rains” – Garbage – Garbage

Categories
Music

If practice makes perfect, The Weeknd could use a little work

The Weeknd is a newcomer in the R&B music industry; his debut mixtape House of Balloons recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. Hype surrounding the Toronto artist is almost unbelievable considering his lack of stage experience and radio play. Regardless, Montreal was pumped up and ready for his sold out show Friday night at Metropolis.
Abel Tesfaye is the real name of the man behind the mysterious digital albums, which are available for free on his website. He’s received praise from Pitchfork and Rolling Stone, and House of Balloons was nominated for a 2011 Polaris Music Prize. The Weeknd is known for his crooning soprano voice, which hits falsetto notes effortlessly. The real question was whether his live performance could live up to his studio material.
Approximately 2,000 people filled the venue. The doors opened at 6 p.m., but unfortunately for those standing, an average DJ mixed tracks until 9 p.m. The audience was sedated with boredom, yet still anticipated the show.
Once the DJ left the stage, the energy immediately picked up. The lights dimmed, excited shrieks vibrated throughout the room, and cell phones flew into the air, preparing to document the 22-year-old’s first steps on the stage.
Opening with “High For This,” one of his better-known songs, was a wise choice. Backed by a three-piece band, The Weeknd swayed and jumped around the stage in an attempt to win over the crowd. For an artist who has performed live very little, his effort to engage the audience was valiant, but lacked practice.
Another song that stood out in his performance was “The Zone.” His fans sang along passionately, watching black and white images of nearly naked women projected on a screen behind him.
For the song titled “Montreal,” The Weeknd aimed the mic at the audience, encouraging them to keep singing along.
His set list featured songs from all three of his mixtapes. His voice proved to be genuine, and not enhanced with studio effects. But too often, he sang incomplete sentences or avoided the lyrics altogether. However, his effort at Michael Jackson-like dancing across the stage compensated for his vocals many times.
When the beat for “The Morning” started, the crowd went insane. He also sang “The Fall,” “House Of Balloons/Glass Table Girls,” and “Loft Music.” After his performance, which didn’t seem to last as long as a typical concert, he came back out for an encore: an acoustic performance of “Wicked Games.”
The Weeknd will be back in Montreal for Osheaga in August, after a European tour and performing at Coachella. Hopefully the young artist will develop a better stage presence between now and this summer and will return to Montreal with even more hysteria than before.

Exit mobile version