October 3, 2022
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There’s not a second to breathe on the new album by the Weeknd, “Dawn FM” — no areas for decision and calm, no indications of a world exterior of its borders. An uninterrupted set of iridescent megapop anthems blended like a D.J. combine, it’s, as with so many issues that he has made in the final decade, an all-or-nothing proposition.

Since the Weeknd, born Abel Tesfaye, first arrived in 2011 with a trio of dank, sleazy mixtapes that radically reconstructed R&B, he has steadfastly, perhaps even stubbornly, dedicated to considering of his albums as discrete eras with evolving ideologies. And as he’s grow to be one of the largest pop stars on the planet, this has required each super talent and a not insignificant quantity of religion — in an period of microtargeting and niches that explode into ubiquity, he’s selecting a far much less assured top-down path.

He has succeeded by remaining, even at peak saturation, enigmatic. Tesfaye, 31, is considering world-building, and he stays obscure — at this level, evolving previous strategic anonymity into full-scale character work — hiding behind hits.

“Daybreak FM,” his fifth major-label album, is smooth and vigorous and in addition, once more, a light-weight reimagining of what big-tent music would possibly sound like now, in an period when most world stars have deserted the idea. “Daybreak FM” extends and reimagines Tesfaye’s fixation on good pop that he’s been pursuing since he first teamed with the hitmaker Max Martin in the mid-2010s — seven years later, he’s nonetheless chasing a deeply polished orb at the finish of an infinite galaxy.

What’s hanging is the path he’s chosen to get there — sure, Martin is right here, as are Oscar Holter and Swedish Home Mafia. However Tesfaye’s true consigliere is Daniel Lopatin (a.ok.a Oneohtrix Point Never), who started his profession as a channeler of interstellar rumble however developed right into a soundtracker for area disco. Collectively, they make work that’s mesmeric, each for its high quality and its seamlessness. Tesfaye pulls Lopatin nearer to blunt rhythm whereas permitting himself to get absorbed in the producer’s countless shimmers.

On “Daybreak FM,” they land squarely in the window between 1982 and 1984, when New York’s emergent hip-hop manufacturing was coalescing into the electro that was streaking its approach into pop. That is breakdancing music, relating every thing from Afrika Bambaataa’s seminal “Planet Rock” to Man Parrish and Mantronix to the first Drive M.D.s album to the tuneful Los Angeles proto-rap of Egyptian Lover and World Class Wreckin’ Cru to Maurice Starr and Arthur Baker’s early work with New Version.

What Tesfaye and Lopatin construct on that basis is bold. “Don’t Break My Coronary heart” is soaringly unhappy, framing romantic desperation as an unescapable sonic maze. “Gasoline” dips into Depeche Mode-style hauteur for a basic Weeknd story about alluring degeneracy: “It’s 5 a.m. I’m excessive once more/And you may see that I’m in ache/I’ve fallen into vacancy.”

“How Do I Make You Love Me?” is a super-sweet model of the Michael Jackson-esque pop Tesfaye has been reaching for, as is the majestic “Take My Breath.” These songs, which seem again to again early on the album, are the greatest arguments for Tesfaye’s imaginative and prescient, and crucially, each are songs the place Martin is there as an amplifying pressure.

On “Daybreak FM,” Tesfaye sometimes edges up in opposition to simu-funk, like on “Sacrifice,” which samples Alicia Myers’s dance-liberation thumper “I Wish to Thank You.” And “Right here We Go … Once more,” which has the faintest mist of “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees, is the album’s weakest and least attribute second, a lyrical jolt into the deeply particular current for a performer who’s attempting to make music that exists exterior of time.

There’s a motive nobody is presently attempting to emulate what Tesfaye is reaching — it requires the meticulousness of an engineer, the ego of a famous person and the scars of the deeply wounded. Performed unsuitable, it could actually come off as icy and algorithmic.

The album is threaded with interstitials from a fictional radio station, primarily voiced by Jim Carrey — amusing however not notably significant. What does hit more durable is “A Tale by Quincy,” wherein the influential producer and mogul Quincy Jones relates a narrative about studying to develop up tough. Jones is an apparent antecedent for Tesfaye, who aspires to be an orchestrator as a lot as a singer and songwriter. (There are echoes of Jones’s 1981 album “The Dude” right here as effectively.)

If something has modified for Tesfaye, it’s his relationship to dysfunction. Although there are moments — like “Sacrifice” (“The ice inside my veins won’t ever bleed”) and “Gasoline” — that recall the louche desperation of his early albums, he’s extra typically the sufferer.

“I Heard You’re Married” — which contains a crisp, dexterous visitor verse from Lil Wayne (“If I ain’t your husband I can’t be your hybrid”) — is about what occurs when your previous weapons are turned in opposition to you: “Your quantity in my telephone I’m gon’ delete it/Lady, I’m approach too grown for that deceiving.” “Is There Somebody Else?” is a remarkably chill music about being a reformed cad. And he boasts a few movie-star girlfriend on “Right here We Go … Once more.”

Maybe the shift is an acknowledgment of the regrets that include age and expertise. Maybe it’s as a result of the dangerous man can solely be the hero for thus lengthy. Or perhaps it’s only a part. The final full music on the album is “Much less Than Zero,” a nod to Bret Easton Ellis debauchery but in addition a barely stripped-down music about interior unhappiness. It’s the solely second on this mirror ball of an album that feels actually weak, and dares to peek inside: “I attempt to cover it, however I do know you understand me.”

The Weeknd
“Daybreak FM”
(XO/Republic)

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