The Weeknd

No matter how good he may be in years to come, Abel Tesfaye’s music will always be doomed to comparisons with his breakout trilogy of mixtapes. It’s an inevitable fate. Those mixtapes ripped apart the skin of a genre that had grown a little too safe, and injected it with a generous dose of innovation. We heard it in the grimy nightclub party vibes of House of Balloons, in the noise-meets-acoustic mashup on Thursday, and in the sprawling yet epic Echoes of Silence. But let me stop myself before I too fall victim of these comparisons.

On Kiss Land, The Weeknd’s major label debut, the production is cleaner and the sounds are more ambitious. Album highlight “Belong to the World” opens with a crack of thunder and the chirping of birds, only to fade into a jarring, sped-up beat sample of Portishead’s “Machine Gun”. The vocal overdubs on the chorus are angelic yet dark, and Abel comes through with the lyrics, painting a somber love story full of heartbreak and regret. Another high point is the title track. It starts off mysterious and nocturnal, accompanied by haunting screams and shimmering wind chimes, but at the halfway point the beat picks up and the song descends into a hypnotic nightmare of blurred moans and swirling synths. I can’t help but think of Abel running through the dank, smoke-filled alleyways of Neo Tokyo, his figure illuminated by the neon signs that line every storefront.

Unfortunately, the songwriting and imagery run thin on Kiss Land. “Professional” could not be a more unfocused opener as Abel struggles to fuse two separate ideas. Its abrupt end doesn’t help either, and leaves much to be desired. “Live For” boasts an overly-repetitive chorus, and Drake’s verse, while not a bad one, doesn’t seem to fit the off-kilter beat. And when we’re on the topic of not fitting in, “Wanderlust”, with its straightforward beat and funky melody, sticks out on the album like a sore thumb. The song is catchy, and I find myself singing along with the chorus, but it should’ve been released as a separate track.

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— , October 8, 2013    Comments Off on The Weeknd: Kiss Land

FKA twigs

There was something very exciting about The Weeknd’s ascent in 2011. R&B had finally outgrown its ’90s persona. It no longer had to be about tender love making, or cutesy courtship. Its performers no longer needed to be dancers first, and singers second, or spend the majority of their music videos displaying abdomen wet with sweat, rain or both. Its emotional pallet could be more broad than the template: triumph, love, heartbreak. Perhaps most importantly, it no longer had to play on radio. This was the new R&B, presented to the world by Abel Tesafaye, a shrouded 19 year old, whose first four songs hit the internet, and instantly caught the eyes of millions in months.

When I came across FKA twigs earlier this summer, it took me back to the same excitement I had when hearing “What You Need” two and a half years ago. Much like Tesafaye, Twigs’ music often feels like quiet inside a smut-filled storm. She’s an observer to the seedy scenes of London’s clubs, where she’s tended bar for the better part of a decade. Like Tesafaye, whose vocals have drawn comparisons to Michael Jackson (particularly after his “Dirty Diana” cover), Twigs has already been compared to Janet.

Framing Twigs’ music in the context of R&B, however, is limiting. With only one eclectic EP and an excellent lead single for a forthcoming full-length out, her choice in production veers from the tenants of current R&B, instead drawing more from London’s dub scene. And that might be what makes her sound most exciting.

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— , August 13, 2013    Comments Off on FKA twigs

Photograph by Anna M. Campbell

As Ca Va Cool concludes its fifth year and the arbitrary music-ranking period of 2011 comes to a close, the gang assembled (virtually) once again to bring you our twenty favourite albums of the year. The bottom half of our list features riot grrrls old and new, an R&B resurrection, and, interestingly, most of the Philadelphia rock scene. Stay tuned for the conclusion of our list with the ten best albums of 2011, when we get around to it.

20. The Rural Alberta Advantage Departing

Arriving in the dead of winter early this year, Departing lived up to high expectations by not really departing at all from the rock ‘n’ nostalgia formula that powered the Rural Alberta Advantage’s 2009 debut Hometowns. A new batch of crafty songs from Nils Edenloff continues to blur the line between homesickness and heartbreak; Paul Banwatt’s manic beats continue to provide the gasoline. Feeling more and more comfortable in their shoes as a dedicated three-piece ensemble, Edenloff, Banwatt, and keyboardist Amy Cole focus on what they’re best at: compelling, unpretentious indie-folk drawn through the emotional mesh of all that we must leave behind. Plus some kickass drums. — Josh Penslar

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— , December 19, 2011    1 Comment

Photograph by Caroline Desilets

The Polaris Music Prize was first awarded in 2006, serving as the Canadian equivalent of Britain’s Mercury Prize, or the United States’ short-lived Shortlist Music Prize. 40 eligible Canadian releases are chosen for the longlist by the Polaris Jury, who then pare the group down to a 10 album shortlist before the final vote. Previously, the award has been given to Final Fantasy, Patrick Watson, Caribou, Fucked Up, and Karkwa. The disparity between those winners suggests little rhyme-or-reason is involved with the eventual winner, so the list-making process remains entertaining as ever, as it’s usually anyone’s game.

The most recent winners have come with some stigma attached. Both Fucked Up and Karkwa came completely out of left-field as winners, making many question the final 10-person vote. However, having seen both acts live within the past few months, with Fucked Up making for one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve seen in a long time, and Karkwa completely stealing the show from Plants and Animals, I can no longer say their wins were completely undeserved. I will make no defence for Patrick Watson.

The 2011 shortlist was released yesterday, and despite boasting eight first-time shortlist nominees, it seems to be eliciting more grumbling than previous years. We’re not on the jury, but Ca Va Cool favourites PS I Love You, The Rural Alberta Advantage and Young Galaxy inexplicably did not make the jump from the longlist, and we’re scratching our heads at some of the inclusions. So, without further ado, the artists on the Polaris Music Prize 2011 shortlist:

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— , July 7, 2011    Comments Off on Polaris Music Rant