The Weeknd
House of Balloons


4.0
excellent

Review

by Conrad Tao EMERITUS
March 24th, 2011 | 122 replies


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: This isn't a happy house.

House of Balloons is some seriously filthy sex music, the stuff of grimy nightclubs and their sleazy, dingy bathroom stalls. Not that this debut mixtape from The Weeknd sounds particularly scuzzy or ugly in any way. Far from it, in fact; this is some of the most polished stuff released this year. But these songs have a distinctively urban quality about them, in a way that transcends the now-gentrified "urban" genre and shoots straight for actual city streets. Musically, House of Balloons isn't particularly far removed from mainstream R&B, and what with its highly recognizable samples, it often does sound very familiar, but it's infused with unfiltered, unrestrained libido, eschewing glamour for something more sweaty and rough-edged...and that is very difficult to come by in this day and age of desexualized, mass-marketed product.

"You don't know what's in store, but you know what you're here for." Right from this opening line, The Weeknd set the stage with a titillating come-on against the backdrop of slow, lightly distorted beats. The effect is utterly intoxicating, at once visceral and luxuriant, and the production somehow manages to sound both claustrophobic and expansive. The same goes for the mixtape's titular track, which takes the riff of Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Happy House" and brilliantly lays it atop an enormous and hypnotic beat that's just a bit too slow to properly dance to. Once the song's cleverness wears off, its emotional heft sets in; in its new context, the cry of "this is a happy house" is less a joyous celebration than a desperate utterance, as if repeating the phrase over and over will somehow make it true. Underlying this is the knowledge, of course, that "House of Balloons" really isn't a pleasant place, and herein lies the conflict that drives the track forward.

So when The Weeknd choose to tread on more familiar hip-hop ground, as on "The Party & The After Party", it feels knowing and darkly humorous. Lyrics mentioning Louis Vuitton and high heel shoes are delivered in a despondent tone instead of a typically hedonistic one. Such an attitude can sometimes verge on being solipsistic, but The Weeknd wisely choose to simply opt for a pained and resigned outlook rather than a self-indulgently virtuous one. If they're lightly poking fun of contemporary party culture, they're also halfheartedly embracing it. There's a prevalent feeling of melancholy and self-loathing throughout much of House of Balloons, not only in these references to trite hallmarks of modern-day hip-hop culture, but also in some of the mixtape's more explicitly sexual moments. The quietly arresting "Coming Down" is defined by its breathy, desolate coo of "I always want you when I'm coming down", and "What You Need" is a sultry, seductive track darkly colored by its longing chorus: "He's what you want / I'm what you need."

It's this emotional honesty that makes House of Balloons as successful and addicting as it is. Much has been made about the mysterious background of The Weeknd, and how it remains unclear whether it's a solo project or a band. Certainly, The Weeknd's sudden appearance on the radars of outlets like Pitchfork, Disco Naïveté, and Drake's Twitter invites questions about the role of anonymity in music. After all, pop in the aughts has been dominated by outsize personalities, from the strangely arresting downward spirals of Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears to the agitprop art of M.I.A. and the attention-grabbing antics of Lady Gaga. But as the decade drew to a close and the Internet established itself as a permanent fixture in the music business, a new group of pop-influenced projects began to crop up. Many of them were immediately relegated to various pointless microgenres, but they often shared a common thread - they sprung up from near-anonymity and gained momentum with the help of blogs and social networks. It was refreshing, if only because it finally allowed for the artist to be separated almost entirely from the art, but it also begs the question: how much of the attention foisted upon these artists, of which The Weeknd are most certainly a member, was borne out of mere mystique, and how much of it was the result of legitimate interest in what still matters most, which is, of course, the music itself? Thankfully, when the work is as good as the gorgeous extended comedown of "Loft Music" or the aqueous groove of "The Morning" that question answers itself. With House of Balloons, The Weeknd have confidently shown that their anonymity is but one small facet of their artistic existence by presenting music that stands on its own - and then some.



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user ratings (780)
Chart.
4
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Tyler Fisher EMERITUS (4)
Do you like sex? This is probably as close as you will get to having it tonight....


Comments:Add a Comment 
Irving
Staff Reviewer
March 24th 2011


7311 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is why you're Contributor and I'm not - fantastic writing. Excellent review all-round; pos.

Also: solipsistic - what the hell does that word mean?!

conradtao
Emeritus
March 24th 2011


2090 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

upon reading this, it sounds more like a 4.5 review - what do you guys think? anyhow, this is a really excellent
record. and Irving - solipsistic is effectively gross egocentrism

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
March 24th 2011


23909 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this album is tiiiight, nice to see it getting some hype here
review is good too, of course

Digging: RATKING - So It Goes

Satellite
March 24th 2011


20826 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i think the review did your score justice tbh.

also you convinced me to check this out.

cirq
March 24th 2011


9264 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

HELL YES! Frank Ocean and The Weeknd are takin over those two are my two favorite released of 2011

Irving
Staff Reviewer
March 24th 2011


7311 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Shut up you solipsists.

cirq
March 24th 2011


9264 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

hey, shut your fuckin mouth

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
March 24th 2011


23909 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this is better than a 3.5, I'll bump it up tonight or tomorrow probably

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
March 24th 2011


23909 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

or right now, fuck it

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
March 24th 2011


31362 Comments


Okay, I need this

Digging: Objekt - Flatland

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
March 24th 2011


23909 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Dev, yes you do. Choo Choo! here comes the hype train! I'm so pleased this is getting the attention it deserves

yesssss, I changed the avg from 3.9 to 4. ballin'

Athom
Staff Reviewer
March 24th 2011


17222 Comments


i've been bumping this for the last couple days. it's astoundingly good


balcaen
March 24th 2011


3183 Comments


you've sold this on me, i'll be checking up on it later tonight, despite the fact that i hate two of your recommended albums.

fantastic review.

Bulldog
March 24th 2011


3796 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

good review, pos'd.

conrad always has good reviews. his tryptych review is the best review ive ever read on this site, by far.

conradtao
Emeritus
March 24th 2011


2090 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

thanks, guys.

and bulldog, i liked writing that review but it's actually not one of my favorites; it goes way overboard with the hyperbole at times. i'm very, very happy and flattered that you liked it that much!

also, it's awesome to see this get enough staff ratings for a best new music designation.

KeithStone582
March 24th 2011


1480 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Just heard about this now. WTF

cirq
March 24th 2011


9264 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

i really am sooper excited to see these two albums getting some attention

KeithStone582
March 24th 2011


1480 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

how do I get my hands on this?

Bulldog
March 24th 2011


3796 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

was only released monday man, youre right on time for the party

EDIT - sunday, my bad

FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
March 24th 2011


2806 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

ugh I was just going to start my review for this.



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