Abel Tesfaye has gone through many artistic phases of the course of his celebrated career. But one thing that has always remained the same is that Tesfaye’s artistic personae, The Weeknd, has always been vehemently, painstakingly honest with himself. Almost as if he was using his on-stage self to work through his own contradictory happiness and despair, deflection and self-loathing, and pleasure and pain.
Now the multiple Grammy winner has released his newest studio full-length in the form of the highly-lauded 14-tracker, After Hours, out now on Republic Records. Right out of the gate. the album is being heralded as his very best yet by both fans and critics alike. NME called the album “all-encompassing” and an “existential quandary.” The Ringer calls it his “most accomplished and coherent project to date” and Pitchfork says it’s an “irresistible, cinematic narrative.”
After years of attempting to bring the shadowy tones of his early mixtapes to a mainstream pop format, Tesfaye successfully unites his two worlds. It’s a fact that speaks to his artistic mastery and influence. The Weeknd explained to CR Fashion Book that he’s “confident” about the story he’s crafted for listeners.
“I feel confident with where I’m taking this [new] record,” he said. “There’s also a very committed vision and character being portrayed and I get to explore a different side of me that my fans have never seen.”
From the sharp jungle breaks of “Hardest to Love” to the arpeggiated synths on “Until I Bleed Out,” After Hours is The Weeknd’s most satisfying fusion of synth wave, dream pop, and contemporary R&B. A standout on the LP is “Repeat After Me,” an interlude track which is co-produced with Oneohtrix Point Never and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker. The track’s highly-stylized Vocoder dubs, psychedelic swooshes, and Tesfaye’s signature smooth vocals scream aueteur.
After Hours is unquestionably an artist concept album, as evidenced by the album’s strictly maintained aesthetic over the past few months of releases. After Hours dives deep into Tesfaye’s psyche as he reconciles himself away from his own self-sabotage on Beauty Behind The Madness or the past drunkboy lover he was on Starboy. Stil, he is working through the man he was and the man he wants to be.