In early 2011, The Weeknd (a.k.a. Toronto’s own Abel Tesfaye) emerged from the shadows of the internet as a disembodied, otherworldly voice whose mixtape trilogy quickly helped define this decade’s new mode of indie R&B. Over two years later, with major-label backing and serious tours ahead of him, far more is at stake, so it’s heartening to hear the young star remain true to his disturbing musical vision. Kiss Land is a bigger, darker, and even more dramatic ode to The Weeknd’s fixations: sex, drugs, and all-consuming numbness. Packed with five- and six-minute epics, the album channels a horror-movie aesthetic, combining dense layers of sinister atmospherics with propulsive beats. Atop it all, Tesfaye explores a wider variety of sounds, like the towering chorale vocals of “Adaptation,” the relentless drums of dance-floor workout “Wanderlust,” and the funky sex jam “Love in the Sky,” which comes complete with a rumbling thunderstorm. From the start, Tesfaye was lauded for his forward-thinking compositions, and with the help of his producers, Kiss Land reaffirms that he’s making some of the most impressively challenging material in popular music. While Tesfaye’s description of Kiss Land as “the most terrifying thing ever” may have been hubristic, the album is still a cinematic, immersive sonic experience, and The Weeknd sounds more confident describing his many excesses. Which makes sense, because he’s now officially earned them all.
Playlist picks: “Adaptation,” “Wanderlust,” “Love in the Sky”