Those who went to see the Safdie brother’s 2019 sleeper-hit film “Uncut Gems” were treated to a cameo from Abel Tesfaye, better known by his stage name The Weeknd. Music fanatics who saw “Uncut Gems” may have also realized that the film’s score was composed by Daniel Lopatin, better known by his stage name Oneohtrix Point Never. While promotions for “Uncut Gems” displayed a beaten-up Adam Sandler, crusted blood dripping down his nose, The Weeknd was teasing his new album, “After Hours”, with an image of him beaten-up, crusted blood dripping down his nose.
As luck would have it, Oneohtrix Point Never would be a producer on “After Hours,” released March 20. Singles leading up to the album’s release such as “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights” showed Lopatin’s influence — a heavy dose of atmospheric synthesizers straight from an 80’s soundtrack. Despite being a departure from The Weeknd’s usual sound, the fresh new wave-style flare blends itself well with the usual upbeat hip-hop drums, and this ultimately creates a consonance of retro and contemporary sounds.
A lot of this blend working out should be attributed to the mixing. There’s an intangible satisfaction in listening to a reverberated synth harmonize with a weighty bass note and drumbeat, but all of this is accentuated by stellar production. Low-end melodies rumble, adding an undertone to The Weeknd’s distinctive caroling falsettos. There is subtle darkness that is added through these layers where each song comes off with an upbeat glimmer.
The lyrics hold up to this notion. Keeping with the theme of old and new, The Weeknd brings in a new set of songwriting: by singing about his past. This sees him at his most vulnerable. From the opening track “Along Again” The Weeknd makes it clear this will be an intimate experience with the lines “Take off my disguise / I’m living someone else’s life / Suppressing who I was inside.” What comes through the next thirteen tracks gives the listener hits of Tesfaye’s introspection from his unsavory past. “Scared To Live” sees Tesfaye taking fault for a bad breakup and how this has led his ex to be uncertain about love, stating “I’m the reason you forgot to love.” “Snowchild” recounts Tesfaye’s rise to fame, detailing the drug abuse that came with being on the precipice of stardom. “After Hours” even dabbles into tongue-in-cheek lyricism as shown on the track “Heartless” where The Weeknd boasts about his bravado and his extravagant activities.
With every wound opened up, The Weeknd offers self-analyzing catharsis that offers a nice break from the enumeration of jabs he takes at himself. “Escape From LA” illustrates Tesfaye’s dismay with living in such a hectic environment as LA that he comes to the conclusion of leaving it. On the final track, “Until I Bleed Out,” The Weeknd has metaphorically bled out all of his emotion throughout the record and sings about his desire to be sober again; “Well, I don’t wanna touch the sky no more / I just wanna feel the ground when I’m coming down / It’s been way too long.”
All in all, The Weeknd pushes new boundaries both musically and lyrically in “After Hours.” Perhaps one of the best parts of this album is the cohesiveness, how the nostalgic sounds carry dark undercurrents that parallel the emotional stories that The Weeknd sings about. Even with this being The Weeknd’s most complex record to date Tesfaye managed to work it so that “After Hours” was quintessentially his without him every releasing anything quite like it before.