With The Weeknd's debut, House of Balloons, it is clear that they won't be following anybody's rules but their own. They forfeited any concern for beginner's profit by putting the mixtape up online for free, toyed expressively with the classic boundaries of R&B, and opened up about sinister subject matters with unashamed indifference towards any consequences. Although, through their lyrics, they seem determined to a shine a light on corners that have long been darkened for a more sensitive public eye, the music itself is unobtrusive and even soothing at times. Most tracks open with hazy instrumentals that operate under the conceptual form of R&B, but add enough unique accents that cause surprise when the more distinctly recognizable roots kick in. The vocals are smooth and impressive, and the electronic synth additions generate a peaked interest in what might otherwise be an expected sound. As much as they test boundaries, R&B tends to require a distinct taste, and this album did not quite escape that fundamental element of their music. While this is certainly R&B that has been twisted into a more modern and moody delivery, the basics of the music still lay in the genre that drives the songwriting, and perhaps doesn't warrant such a high level of blog hype.
House of Balloons kicks off with first track "High For This", which opens with a deeply echoing beat that gives off the intimidating feeling that it is coming at you from down a dark hallway, getting ever closer. Although the vocals have a nearly sugary effect to them, the lyrics they sing express a much more corrupt intent. They expressively coerce a female interest into something dangerous enough for the song to tell her, "You want to be high for this". This track then transitions into the second song, "What You Want", which is driven by a soft beat with a provocative touch. This slower number, which has a very coasting flow, changes pace with the third track "Glass Table Girls". There is a jingling beat to pick up the excitement, but an eerie background mix is sure to maintain the mischievous attitude that fuels the album.
"The Morning" has a more direct approach to The Weeknd's synthetic take on R&B, and even highlights a bluesy guitar throughout the track. Although it is a smooth and even calming song sonically, the lyrics suggest a much more wayward subject matter. While the band has not yet experienced the overwhelming effects of fame to the public's knowledge, this song takes on a descriptive reflection of their fast life, singing "Auto plane tickets / Cali is the mission / Visit every month like I'm split life living". The song also refers to people trying to mimic them, describes girls who were timid, "But behind closed doors they get pulled for riches". Fifth track "Wicked Games" goes yet even harder when it comes to the beat, and this time the sinister notes correspond with the darkness of the lyrics as he sings, "Bring your love, baby / I can bring my shame / Bring the drugs, baby / I can bring the pain". This song also seems to have a more developed rhythm and melody to make for a completed sound. This does an excellent job of exposing the basics, while kicking them up with electronic inflections. The track seems to represent the band and their introduction the most succinctly at this point in the progression.
The remaining tracks explore different variations of slick rumblings and frank observations. "Coming Down" is one of the more eccentric numbers, while "Loft Music" is driven by a standard beat. "The Knowing" is filled with echoing clangs and deep, elongated vocal wails, which transition between being drowned by the heavy music and then becoming the focus of the moment. "The Party and The After Party" is almost as close to classic rhythm song as The Weeknd will get, especially with the quivering notes that finish off the vocals.
However, the highly suggestive lyrics continue to reveal a deeper introspection of unabashed desire, which is the poignant element in the curiosity that surrounds this group. No matter how pleasing the notes or how close they get to sounding like a recognizable genre, there is a darkness to House of Balloons that will always drag you below the comfortable surface.