As the year draws to a close, it would be an injustice not to highlight the best and most unique R&B album of the year…well, actually the best R&B mix tape of the year.  Released on March 21, 2011, House of Balloons, by Ethiopian Canadian singer, Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, is a sexual, bleak, and provocative mix of R&B tracks that embrace the extremes of excess while never losing a level of intimacy.

House of Balloons is stripped down, relying mainly on Tesfaye’s deep, seductive vocals to guide the mix tape through the emotional rollercoaster of sex, drugs, hangovers, pain, loneliness, and jealousy.  This album is devoid of overproduction (the bane of most R&B albums), making House of Balloons simple and personal, as though you were transported to the studio watching Tesfaye lay down the twisted, devious lyrics on each heavy track.   The smooth beats and long, distorted bass coupled with amazingly descriptive lyrics about giving in to every dark and dirty vice creeps into your brain and easily manipulates your mood into a drug-induced calmness.

Track Breakdown:

What You Need sounds like Tesfaye is singing to a girl while standing in a hallway, begging her to open up and let him in.  The beat is painfully seductive and slow, with a subtle piano that adds a jazz element which gives the song an extra layer of complexity while keeping the song clean and simple.

Wicked Games starts off with an ominous guitar riff that continues throughout the song, conveying the dark, disturbing thought process going through the singer’s head while he begs the object of his affection to say she wants him if only to build his confidence.

The Party & The Afterparty is a song that comes in two parts.  The first part, The Party, has a uniquely uptempo beat (compared to the rest of the album), with an infectious hook and  more commercial-minded production.  The song spins into a deeper and darker place, with lyrics delving casually into drug use to heighten the experience.  The second part of the song, the Afterparty, drops the catchy hook and a prominent guitar riff is used, creating a more palpable, gritty aspect to the song.

When & Where:

Based on the above descriptions, I think you know all the filthy times and places you should and most likely will listen to this album.

What You Need:

Wicked Games:

The Party and The Afterparty:

And you can download the mixtape for free on the group’s website here.