Welcome to our brand new column in which we unravel the distinctions between two homonymous musical acts. Read this column regularly and the next time someone confuses Beach Fossils for Beach House, or Cold Cave for Caveman, you’ll be able to clear your throat and gently inform others about the obvious nuances — thus confirming that you are not only original and authentic, but the most musically informed of all of your friends. First up: Weekend versus The Weeknd.
Back in 2011 The Weeknd aka Abel Tesfaye, the Canadian R&B singer/producer, dropped his first mixtape for free online. It made a massive splash (especially when Drake, who Tesfaye had collaborated with previously, caught wind of it and tweeted out the guy’s lyrics), but Tesfaye was just revving up. The barely-21-year-old, a talent to be sure, was lucky in that he’d hit a stride when everyone was getting into R&B, even indie music snobs. And not only that, but he was damn good at R&B. The Weeknd catapulted to internet fame faster than you can misspell “weekend.”
The guy proved to be adept at the fine art of bait n’ wait. After dropping House of Balloons he waited and watched for what in the music world is essentially freaking forever to reveal himself and play his first live show in Toronto, his hometown. Up until that point, not even music journalists could get ahold of the mysterious fellow.
Within a matter of months he had a record deal with Drake, an artist who he would continue to collaborate with, and millions of fans. By the end of the year he had three wildly popular mixtapes (“The Balloon Trilogy”) in the bag, each with more than a hint that The Weeknd– at the very least the stage persona– embraced the party life.
The Weeknd’s taste for good times is no less apparent on the new track “Tell Your Friends,” the video for which dropped last week. The song proves The Weeknd has remained true to his sexed-up, drug-gobbling image. Of course there’s the usual “singin bout poppin pills, fucking bitches, life so trill,” but shockingly Tesfaye declares: “Go tell your friends what you seen/How I be off that coke/ Go tell you friends about it.”
Apparently, the dude has limits. But then, in what’s seemingly a retraction, the Weeknd’s totally messing with our heads: “And money is the only thing I’m chasin’ / And some dope dimes on some coke lines /Give me head all night, cum four times.”
The very last thing in this world The Weeknd cares for is the opinions of haters (I don’t think it’s a coincidence the King of Zero Fucks Kanye West produced this track). As for the video, it seems like a weak attempt to be controversial and imitate other winners of late (think Rihanna with “Bitch Better Have My Money“).
While The Weeknd has always entertained some of (OK, a lot of) R. Kelly’s unapologetic brashness and sexual explicitness to the point of being overly anatomical, not to mention the same regard for women as less-than-human-beings, lately The Weeknd’s stuff seems to be approaching the same lack of self-awareness that characterizes at least some of Kelly’s output. But while we can look back and really laugh at R. Kelly — i.e. Trapped in the Closet, like seriously — The Weeknd has exactly no sense of humor, and more often the response is to cringe at his cheese-fraught missteps.
But despite positively stinking of misogyny and worn-out machoism, The Weeknd does have an interesting sound. We’re used to hearing the-life-of-the-party come through as either a super-hyper, borderline destructive rant in song form, a rode-hard and put-away-wet kind of drawl, or raspiness to indicate a cool, distanced attitude and irreverence. But Tesfaye entertains none of these expectations.
Instead his voice is worthy of a eunuch, as smooth and angelic as MJ. (And actually The Weeknd’s covered Michael Jackson on Echoes of Silence, his 2011 self-released mixtape, with a dead-on rendition of “Dirty Diana.”) But for all his powers to denote seeming serenity and gentleness, he immediately shatters those implied narratives by singing about drugs and sex and bad decisions, something we all engage in. And The Weeknd’s unwavering honesty about the party life is actually somewhat refreshing. There’s no higher purpose here (this is pop music, after all), he’s simply living on the edge.
This Brooklyn-by-way-of-SF rock band has been around since 2009, when the Weeknd was just a glimmer in Drake’s eye.
They tap into the sounds of their ’80s industrial and dark-wave predecessors with a heavy overlay of shoegaze, which certainly sets them apart from the ’80s elevator music/soft rock band of the same name. Our contemporary Weekend, however, has been riding a wave that’s been a long time coming and is in full force right now, what with copycat bands joining the fray left and right. So I guess there’s something to say for beating everyone else to it?
Though Weekend never seems to stop playing, they haven’t dropped anything since their 2013 record Jinx. That album, true to the genre, is heavy on the tinny drums, echoey, ethereal vocals, backup synths, and bass-driven tracks. It’s one of those records you can put on while you’re doing something else and it will slip by pretty much unnoticed, save for the sort of grating emo breakouts that occur once in a while on tracks like “Mirror.”
Some of their more interesting moments come when things get furious. At the outset of “July” the rhythmic synch of drums, powerful bass, and Cure-like guitars are borderline heart-pounding before the melt back into the hypnotic hum that is shoegaze’s eternal drift into nowhere.
The band’s relative silence since 2013 is probably due, in part, to the fact that frontman Shaun Durkan has spent a good chunk of his time in the last few years working on his solo tape, Bedsores. This effort immediately sets itself apart from anything that could be confused with comatose by opening with a woman’s unrelenting scream.
As the tape progresses, things drift back and forth between hints of post-punk, though you’d be hard-pressed to immediately identify it as that (it’s buried underneath so much poppy fuzz and noise). Most of all, the vibe we’re getting from this is Drukan’s trip into the world of experimental music.
And remember when I said Weekend had a predilection for the album as one unbroken chain of sound? Well nevermind what I said because Bedsores is actually one, continuous nearly 40-minute long track.
You might think these guys are about the farthest thing from the Weeknd, but according to their Facebook they have a similar predilection for pill popping. Before a show in early August: “Tonight in San Diego, bring us carne asada fries and a Xanax or two please.” Surprising? Not surprising. This is shoegaze, after all, and benzos sort of come with the territory.