Release Date: January 7th, 2022
Label: XO, and Republic Records
Described as a conceptual album drowned in purgatory – a journey towards “the light at the end of a tunnel”. Following on the heels of the successful 2020 release of his 4th studio album “After Hours” – Abel Tesfaye better known as The Weeknd debuts “Dawn FM” with a flare for the contemporary, and a nostalgia for the retro.
The entire album feels like a contemporary adult radio station that one discovers surfing the channels while stuck in late night traffic or taking the long way home on some forgotten dirt road. It’s rich with the ambience of red-room lightning, shag carpeting, and half-lit cigarettes. With guest appearances by the likes of Jim Carrey, Tyler the Creator, Lil Wayne, and more, this album and it’s 16-track length is a story demanding to be told, and deeply adored.
We’re guided into the album by the gentle caress of a familiar voice. Jim Carrey comes in “Dawn FM”, a channel takeover debut that happened on 103.5 in Canada on the release date, with gentleness and eerie nostalgia. The retro feel each track portrays is a mix of heavy bass, dj-like anthem, and repeated rhythm that is reminiscent of a slow-mo Bladerunner scene from the 80’s where a secret nightclub is scarcely viewed by curious wanderers.
The tension and atmosphere that comes with the combination of synth pop and dance pop is linked with the ethereal synthesizers that mix with trance-like words echoed by Jim Carrey’s soothing voice. We’re reeled in for a frightening yet peaceful greeting to the afterlife; a journey into the light, or perhaps for some – the dark.
The track that’s introduced following our introduction is “Gasoline” and plays on a thriller-like Michael Jackson vibe with a dark aura and catchy beat. Its playful and enticing with a rhythm that’s infectious and lyrics that dance on the mind; filled with questions stemming from “It’s 5AM I’m Nihilist, I know there’s nothing after this,” – a play in the favour of the album’s concept, with the debate of death, the afterlife, and the questions that wait in-between.
“How Do I make you Love Me?” is a gentle tune that still holds light, dance-pop in its sound that’s great for casual listening. It ends with a few lyrics, targeting a transition into the “Born to be Alive” track by Patrick Hernandez.
One of the more popular radio-tracks that’s been on a multitude of playlists is “Take My Breath”. The snyth-pop levels on this track are difficult to deny with thunderous bass and an upbeat, familiar rhythm that gets under your skin. This track builds the anticipation before placing you in the backseat of an old Cadillac to jive on the lap of a stranger. Your eyes close and you can see the beige cloth of the seats, your bodies intertwining, and smell the scent of liquor and cheap perfume fueling your trance.
Throughout the album it dances on the notion that you’re literally on your way to the afterlife. Nods like “don’t panic, there’s still more music to come before you’re completely engulfed in the blissful embrace of that little light you see in the distance.” And “before you dwell in that house forever” are spoken calmly in split tracks throughout, offering you a strange sense of relaxation to the fear that you’ve passed on and you weren’t even aware of it.
“Sacrifice” is the most popular track off the latest album. It has a Bee Gees feel to its melody though the bass remains low, which allows it to stand out. It’s easy to find yourself bopping your head along to this track, just riding out the beat and letting yourself chill. Roll a joint, or pour a drink and lay by the pool; morning or night this track is solid with a beat that isn’t too high-strung or low-vibe so it fits any mood at any time of day which makes it easy to see why this track gained such popularity
“Out of Time” is your ‘smooth jazz’ of the album. The love-maker, tear-jerker, memory-driver with lyrics that reflect on past joys, fears, and forgottens. “The last few months I’ve been workin’ on me, baby. There’s so much trauma in my life,” is a lyrical reflection many can relate to both past and present. It evokes feelings of sympathy and longing to make up for lost time, though, as the title would suggest, it may be too late.
The track “Here We Go…Again” features Tyler the Creator and is your easy-listening song with tranquil piano-like keys and vocal highs that draw out emotion and make you feel like you’re watching a Sunday morning Soap Opera. Tyler’s rap transition from Abel’s flow isn’t smooth by any means yet it seems to fit the track and works well with the tune.
Songs like “Best Friends” and “Is There Someone Else?” are quirky, light tracks that follow with the easy-listening vibe. Still, they hold onto the dance-pop bass and techno-style that leave them as ear worms for many listeners.
The album’s concept plays on the journey between life and death, with ‘Dawn’ symbolizing Purgatory, the in-between for those with unfinished business. However, on the other side, this album can be a provocation for those seeking to make up for lost time – as I mentioned previously. As if someone is trying to get closure, gain forgiveness, or tie up any loose ends in this lifetime so that they may pass freely onto the next without any heaviness or guilt weighing them down.
“Starry Eyes” and “Every Angel is Terrifying” keeps the Tron-esque vibes high and at the ready, teasing us with vibrating lows and frightening synth highs that shake the body awake and leave the mind looking for an exit door. The tracks are enigmatic with different scenarios playing out depending on how listeners may interpret the lyrics and the tunes. With exiting statements, and strange advertising breaks, it’s a curious concoction of dreams, memories, and anxiety that break down the barriers of emotion and crawl into the deepest recesses of the very soul.
Exit tracks “Don’t Break my Heart” feels like a track missed from ‘After Hours’ as it seamlessly fits the style and sound of the previous album, allowing us to further reflect on the tracks of this album and realize it is a true extension of the previous work, as intended. Following with “I Heard You’re Married” featuring Lil’ Wayne the beat picks up once more provokes the notion of unfinished business, and lost connections. A guilt of past lovers and burning guilt. Though I appreciate the guest appearances, Lil’ Wayne’s feature on this track seems lost amidst the melody and Abel’s on vocals and would’ve been better suited to another track.
In the end, this 16-track album, with its guest appearances is one to have a listen to if you’re a fan of The Weeknd’s previous work, ‘After Hours’ as it feels like a natural extension, and another leg of the journey. While I’m not a fan of each and every song from this album, it is best listened to in its entirety, from start to finish, for full impact and interpretation. Ending on the high notes of the song “Less Than Zero” the journey is finally left with a feeling of contentment and fulfillment, as if all forgiveness has been given, and all loose ends have been tied off.
The speeches by Jim Carrey are truly decadence on this album, reminiscent of his Bruce Almighty days as he sounds like a God, speaking to us through an old, broken radio station to gift us peace and tranquility. “Phantom Regret” by Jim encompasses our spectral glory in its beautiful poetic rhymes, truly aiding in the ascension to light and laughter beyond. Its spoken brilliantly, with eerie synth in the background that defines the truth in the end.
Stream the album here: