Album Review — The Weeknd’s ‘After Hours’

There’s nothing better than on the first listen of an album knowing that you’re listening to something that’s special. When I listened to this new album from The Weeknd, that’s the feeling I got. On his last album Starboy, there were several great moments. But the overall album felt unfocused and bloated. It just didn’t have a direction. All of this though is not only rectified on After Hours, it’s a front-to-back required listen to truly appreciate each song. It’s what an album experience should be.

Eery keyboards play in opening track “Alone Again,” where Abel Tesfaye (it feels more appropriate to refer to him by his actual name when discussing the story) finds himself in an identity crisis, wondering if he’s really the type to be in a relationship. But at the same time he questions if he can be alone again too. It sets up a battle that plays out through the album: his love versus his demons, fighting for and against both at various points. On “Too Late” the relationship has fallen apart and now he’s alone, confronting the guilt and realizing how he did her wrong. I love the pulsating, yet reflective tone of the production, as it heightens the lyrics. “Hardest To Love” is Abel admitting how difficult of a person he is to love and seeing how she’s trying to let him go for good. The dream pop influences mixed with The Weeknd’s usual sound really works well, a credit to producer Max Martin. It gives the song an appropriate overwhelming feeling, as this feeling of disappointment consumes Abel.

“Scared To Live” sees Abel apologizing for being selfish enough to not let her go sooner, stringing her along much longer than he should have. He also owns up to ruining her perception of love and encouraging her to get back out there and find love. It’s a great dose of maturity on an album centered around immature and reckless love. One more cool factoid for this song: it uses an interpolation of Elton John’s “Your Song.” On “Snowchild” Abel reflects on all the sacrifices and work it took him to make it big, but now he plots leaving the bright lights of Los Angeles. He’s simply over it all in the light of the breakup, looking to remove himself from the situation entirely. Despite the sad nature of the song, The Weeknd does manage to get in a clever and funny line: “She liked my futuristic sounds in the new spaceship/Futuristic sex, give her Phillip K. Dick.”

“Escape from LA” sees him leaving finally, but not before one more battle of giving into the desires and sins he knows are destroying him, hooking up with his ex while also realizing she’s a “cold-hearted bitch” and the fake, plastic nature of the bright lights around him. The frustration at the situation and himself bubbles out, while yet indulging in what he knows is wrong. This leads to his jaded bitterness now driving him on “Heartless.” He’s fully relapsed into his single lifestyle, sleeping with every woman he can trying to ignore the pain coming from his heart. The glitzy, yet dark undertones of the production from Metro Boomin perfectly paints the mindset and feeling of Abel in this moment. The song serves as the precursor to the car going off the cliff so to speak.

Abel is going down hill fast and headed for rock bottom on “Faith,” the major turning point on this album and in this story. He throws away his year-long sobriety, indulging in drinking and various drugs in his favorite place of sin, Las Vegas. He admits he’s losing his religion and faith, as the heartbreak of his situation completely overtakes him. By the end of the song he finds himself in the back of a cop car, finally hitting rock bottom. Both the lyrics and production do such a great job of giving that feeling of slowly descending into darkness and then the thud of hitting the bottom at the end when the sirens sound. It’s the most important moment on this album, the crossroads of falling and climbing back to the top.

The climb back up begins on “Blinding Lights.” Abel begins to fight to regain his love, admitting that maybe he can learn to truly love someone. It’s an appropriate title too, as it’s play on the last song being about being blinded by the lights of a cop car and Las Vegas. But now he’s being blinded by the light of the realization of how much he wants to win his love back. Martin comes through once again with more fun production, as the synth and drum machine-driven sound is instantly catchy and makes you want to dance. “In Your Eyes” is Abel professing his love and claiming to see that same passion in her eyes, even though he know there’s hurt that still lurks within her too. This song features even more excellent production from Martin, in fact it’s the best on the album. It’s also the best modern take on 80s pop rock I’ve heard, nailing every little detail needed with the synths, including the fantastic surprise saxophone that comes in at the end.

“Save Your Tears” sees Abel coming across his love at a club, with each exchanging looks and neither being able to walk up and talk to the other. Internally he’s pleading for her to take him back, while also acknowledging he’s late and that she deserves better than him. I love all the little details in the lyrics showing both the external and internal conflicting emotions on display from both Abel and his ex. Throw in the moody, dream pop-influenced production of Martin that gives the song the right amount of tension and anticipation and it’s another great coordination of The Weeknd and Martin. “Repeat After Me” is an interlude of Abel saying his ex doesn’t really love her new man if she’s still thinking of Abel and that it’s just casual sex that means nothing to him. One wonders if he’s trying to convince her or himself more with this plead. Also gotta love how The Weeknd manages to sneak in yet another top notch producer in Kevin Parker to produce this, who of course even in an interlude manages to deliver great production.

The album’s title track is about Abel falling into desperation over his pleadings to win back his ex, unable to sleep. In fact the song is a mash-up of essentially all the feelings he’s experienced up to this point, showing how his emotions are spiraling out of control. He finds himself stuck reliving everything from his past as he struggles to cope with his feelings in the present. The production is noticeably darker and downbeat, as it goes into the final track “Until I Bleed Out.” Abel finally realizes that he’s lost her for good and will never win her heart back again. Now he’s trying to go through the process of letting her go, proclaiming with these visceral lines: “I wanna cut you outta my dreams/Till I’m bleeding out, til I’m bleeding out/I wanna cut you outta my mind.” The production is appropriately dreary and dark, as Abel reaches the same point he thought he might have wanted at the beginning of the album: alone.

After Hours is a phenomenal achievement by The Weeknd. This album is a rich, cinematic experience of love, losing it, fighting to regain it and ultimately reaching the realistic conclusion of realizing that it’s lost. The production team absolutely nails every emotion on this album and takes the lyricism to a whole new level. The juxtaposition of the breezy, mixed cocktail of genres (R&B, pop, hip-hop, dream pop, 80s) feels perfect on this album of frenetic, dark emotions that permeate throughout it. This is without a doubt an album of the year contender.

Grade: 10/10

Album Review — Tame Impala’s ‘The Slow Rush’

When it comes to Tame Impala, there can be a split amongst it’s fans and it all centers around the last album Currents. And it’s understandable, as the sound of Tame Impala is decidedly different pre-Currents and post-Currents. Personally, I prefer post-Currents, as I find the production to be the big reason I prefer this era of Tame Impala. Currents is in fact one of my favorite albums of the 2010s and I’ll most certainly be talking about it more when I conduct my best albums of the 2010s list. Tame Impala’s new album The Slow Rush picks up right where it left off.

Now one thing to know right up front about Tame Impala if you’re not familiar with the act is it’s only one man who’s writing, producing and making the music on the albums: multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker. And it’s easy to see he’s a perfectionist when it comes to his production, hence why it’s been five years since Currents. So when it comes to listening to Tame Impala, it’s immediately the first thing you notice and therefore must be the first thing that has to be discussed. It absolutely dominates and smothers every other aspect of Tame Impala’s music. It’s both good and bad. It’s good in the sense because there’s just so much attention to detail and it’s so grandiose and over-the-top that it overwhelms your senses in a good way. It’s bad in a way though too because it’s so hard to focus on everything else, most notably the lyrics. So one big recommendation I would make when listening to Tame Impala and this album is to wear headphones.

The ethereal and echoing “One More Year” opens the album and the song (and the whole album) explores a relationship one year into it. It reflects on how the relationship came to be, the joy of being in it still the same, but also the doubt and fear of the commitment aspect creeps in too. This seems to be fully fleshed out throughout the album. But I have to point out these particular lyrics towards the latter half of the song come off as lazy: “We got a whole year (One more year)/Fifty-two weeks/Seven days each/(One more year) Four seasons/one reason/one way.” It feels like filler. And as I said above the production drowns out the lyrics so that for many listeners that this just glazes over, but once you start closely examining the lyrics you see there are a few moments on this album where the lyrics feel phoned in.

“Instant Destiny” is an instantly catchy song with one of the stronger hooks on the album. This song is about letting the love in a relationship dominate your emotions and essentially letting all the problems come off as trivial (such as traffic). It’s a fun and groovy love song. “Borderline” is a great modern take on disco that avoids the cheese of the genre and focuses more on a funky bass-line that draws you right in. This honestly feels more like a song from The Weeknd with it’s club feeling and Parker’s voice delivery, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s a great song, but I would remiss if I didn’t point out the canniness.

“Posthumous Forgiveness” is a perfect example when Parker puts an equally great amount of effort into both the lyrics and production, as he explores the complicated feelings he has towards his now deceased-father. He’s angry at the lies his father told him and how feels betrayed by them, watching his father go to the grave without it ever being addressed. But at the same time he forgives him and wishes he was still alive to share all of the things happening in his life now. It’s a beautifully tragic look into a complicated relationship and shows how fantastic of a songwriter Parker can be. I also love how the beat changes from dreary and dark when Parker is expressing anger, but then shifts to a more shining and upbeat sound when he pleads that he wishes his father was still alive.

The tropical funk of “Breathe Deeper” is instantly infectious and I love the shimmering effect the keys give the song as they interlude throughout. It comes off a prove it song to me, as Parker professes to his love that he can handle the relationship. The infectious groove with the commanding lyrics make for a great song, except it feels so unnecessary for it to be six minutes long. It becomes meandering by the end, as this song could have easily just been four minutes and gotten across the message. The beat change at the end feels like overkill too, showing the cons of taking a perfectionist attitude with production.

“Tomorrow’s Dust” should have been left on the cutting room floor, as it has both the least memorable beats and lyrics. The song is about finding it wrong to connect with an old soul and seeing wrongness in others and quite frankly it’s all an unfocused mess. There’s just no direction or purpose in this song, as it ultimately says nothing to me. It’s too abstract in it’s approach, not to mention the song feels longer as a result. Thankfully the album gets back on track with “On Track.” It’s an upbeat and optimistic song about reassuring one’s self that you’re on the right path and overcoming the mistakes of the past while acknowledging there will still be more mistakes and failures to come. It’s staying focused and not letting the past nor future bring you down. The drums and the airy synths give the song an appropriately reflecting yet hopeful feeling.

The bounciness of “Lost in Yesterday” makes it one of the funnest moments on the album. The song is about facing the memories and demons of the past, facing fears and shedding the things that feel like that hold you back. Once again Parker shares a genuinely heartfelt and healthy message of building off mistakes and making yourself into a better, happier person. It’s also yet another example of Tame Impala at it’s best because the songwriting feels like it’s given the same amount of attention as the production. “Is It True” brings more funky and groovy goodness on an album already full of it. Once again the bass liner is killer from Parker. The lyrics are strong here too, as Parker’s love questions if it’s true when he says he loves her. I thoroughly enjoy and am amazed at how Parker captures in the lyrics the simultaneously contradicting feelings of being head over heels with someone while also being absolutely terrified of expressing it (along with the doubt of both with Parker saying he loves her).

“It Might Be Time” is about grappling with that doubt from both internally and externally, looking for all the excuses of why the relationship can’t work. At the same time it’s acknowledging the change happening around you and in your own relationship, causing more fear and doubt. Ultimately Parker realizes he has to embrace it all and not run from it. I love the frenetic nature of the drums and guitars, lending well to the nature and theme of the song. “Glimmer” sounds like it’s song title, a glimmer of hope and resolve in the face of this fear and doubt. The short song (well more of an interlude) consists of Parker repeating over and over “I just wanna let it all go,” referring to the doubt.

This gives way to the final track “One More Hour,” where Parker finally sheds all the past doubts and demons. He fully embraces the changing dynamics of his life and the love he has, using it to center him as he faces the future head on. The concluding absolute resolve and growth that is demonstrated in this song (and whole album) is fantastic. The production is also once again amazing with the soaring and space-y sounds of the synths, guitar and drums crashing together.

The Slow Rush is another great album from Tame Impala without a doubt. But it’s also hard not to see this album is a few missteps away from equaling the brilliance of Currents. It lacks focus in a few spots and there’s one song that just isn’t needed. But this is also a bit nitpicking admittedly. The production from Parker is once again deeply rich and textured, engulfing you with it’s fantastic details. And the songwriting mostly hits. So ultimately I can say this is one of the best albums you’ll hear in 2020.

Grade: 9/10