The Weeknd (ft. Drake) – “The Zone”

Hold on to your panties.

If you are a human who uses the internet, you probably heard that the second mixtape by The Weeknd, titled Thursday, dropped yesterday. As a fan (but not a mega-fan) of House of Balloons, I scooped it up and unzipped it right away. It is a pretty damn stunning piece of work. Certainly a worthy follow up to HoB, and as I’ve been listening to it pretty much incessantly since I downloaded it, I think I like it even more than its predecessor. From the heavy, scuzzy “Angel”-ism of “Life of the Party” to the plucked acoustic arpeggios of “Rolling Stone”, the martial drum pattern of “The Birds Part 1” to the deep dub of closer “Heaven or Las Vegas”, this set of songs has all of the ultra-moody atmosphere of their first release with a lot of welcome sonic experimentation.

Abel Tesfaye is certainly an interesting and unusual singer who I’m still wrapping my ears around, but the production work by Doc McKinney and Illangelo is a goddamn revelation. It’s amazing to me when artists appear out of nowhere already with a distinctive, fully-formed aesthetic (like Vampire Weekend, The xx, or, say, The Modern Lovers), then seemingly have no trouble stretching out this sound across an album without it ever getting repetitive. And it’s even more amazing when they apply just the right number of tweaks to make their second effort even more interesting, as Vampire Weekend did on Contra, and The Weeknd have done on Thursday. (We’ll see if The xx can manage the same, but Jamie xx’s packed roster of extracurriculars is heartening.)

“The Zone” is an easy pick for my early favorite. It’s lush, ominous, expansive, somber, and pretty and melodic all at once–in other words, a pretty standard Weeknd track. I love the way the beat will come in for four bars, drop out for four bars, and come back again. But it’s Drake’s entrance five minutes in that elevates it to the next level. First of all, I had no idea he was going to make an appearance on the mixtape (though it was only a matter of time), and the copy that I downloaded didn’t have a little “ft. Drake” next to the track title. Maybe this was unintentional–the track lengths on my copy are all messed up as well–but I like to imagine they did it on purpose, because hearing Aubrey’s instantly-recognizable voice appear out of the track’s hazy ambiance gave me goosebumps like whoa. Almost makes me think more rappers should do the “just dropping by unannounced” thing and surprise us all every once and a while.

Well Drizzy spits one of his trademark smoother-than-smooth verses of seduction (think his first four bars on “In the Morning”), the beat wrapping around his words just so. I feel I’m still trying to unravel the mysterious magic of Aubrey Drake Graham–at the beginning of 2010 I could hardly have cared less about him and now I find him one of the more compelling figures in hip-hop. I scoffed when people claimed he was some sort of game-changer for the genre, but given the ever more confessional (whiny?) nature of a lot of buzzed-about rap and R&B, there seems to be some substance to that. I first downloaded Thank Me Later on a lark and surprised myself by being immediately drawn in, despite the fact that he’s far from the technically-masterful wordsmith type that I’m usually drawn to in rap. (I’ll take a Black Thought over a Lil B any day.) He just has some aura that brings allure to almost any track he appears on, be it this or “Aston Martin Music” or “She Will”. Hearing him here, with Tesfaye’s falsetto floating around him, gets me very excited for Take Care, to which Tesfaye is rumored to have made a number of contributions. I also threw up the lyrics to his wonderful verse down below.

Though Thank Me Later‘s  “message”, if you could call it that, is different from The Weeknd’s (more earnest, less sinister), they both have that woozy atmospheric sound and a muffled approach to percussion. It’s without a doubt one of the clear referents for this album. (I would say xx and Massive Attack’s Mezzanine are another two. Mezzanine is a moody, sexy-sinister album filled with sprawling compositions, and it was seen as pushing the boundaries of genre when it came out. Now it’s one of the defining documents of that genre–we’ll see if The Weeknd’s trifecta of 2011 mixtapes do for “PBR&B” (barf) what Mezzanine did for trip-hop.)

Sorry this has turned into a not-so-mini review of Thursday and a rumination on Drake. Just check out the track. If you’re like me, you’ll have a minor religious experience, especially if it’s nighttime and you’re driving.

“The Zone”

[audio https://theashtraysays.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/04-the-zone.mp3]

Whoa, all these broken hearts on that pole
Man if pole dances are art you know how many fuckin artists I know
Got some new bills in the mail
Got some big favours I owe
Got some good things ahead of me
When these bad bitches let go
Well, girl lets go
Walk your broken heart through that door
Sit yo sexy ass on that couch
Wipe that lipstick off of your mouth
I take it slow
She in love with my crew
She said make enough so I can try some
I thought taking drugs just aint you, be you
Yeah girl, just be you
And I do this shit for my hometown
It being going down it aint new
That’s that north north, that up top
That OVO and that XO
Your girlfriend at our next show
But its all good, don’t stress though
First night fuck, never really planned it
Take a deep breath, no need to panic
Lips so French, ass so Spanish
You don’t really like attention, I don’t know if she gon manage out here
But she got me all up in my zone
Said she like the view I got in this place
Shit I did all of that on my own

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~ by toren on August 20, 2011.

3 Responses to “The Weeknd (ft. Drake) – “The Zone””

  1. For me, music criticism is a way of analyzing the particular song along with deconstructing the thoughts and emotion that come out the initial reaction. Listening to the song “The Zone” had this effect on me: boredom, intrigue around the part right before Drake comes in, and then boredom again. My boredom at the beginning mainly had to do with the “somber” atmosphere that you described. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a somber atmosphere. Some of my favorite artists include: Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and The Microphones. However, to me the Weeknd’s vocals turn me off the way this guy turns me off: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFndNLPfLUo. They both go for the falsetto and neither of them seem to be able to pull it off, even though the Weeknd’d dude is using autotune to help him reach it. Unfortunately for him, the auto-tune is so sharp that it actually destroys the mood for me. To explain let me use one of the bands I mentioned as an example. I’ll choose Joy Division, Ian Curtis’s mordant wail brings me to a state of melancholy. His voice wasn’t amazing but the way he manipulated it(manually) was exceptional. I might just have dead ears though. Anyways, I am awaiting your response. (Yes, this could have been more concise).

  2. […] Thank Me Later, I’m now surprised by just how excited I am for Take Care. Check out my post on the new Drake-featuring Weeknd song for more on Drake and just why I’m excited about this album. I’m not crazy about the […]

  3. […] almost didn’t put this one on the list, because The Weeknd have already released two excellent mixtapes this year, and a third of the same quality will just be an embarrassment of […]

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