It’s strange to think that two years after I downloaded a free digital copy of “House of Balloons,” an alternative R&B mixed tape by a then-unknown artist known under the pseudonym “The Weeknd,” I would be picking up a copy of the record on vinyl from my local record store.
“House of Balloons” is a testament to how word-of-mouth acclaim and a little bit of mystery (at the time, nobody knew the real identity of “The Weeknd”) can do for an artist like the Canadian-born artist/producer Abel Tesfaye.
Following “House of Balloons,” The Weeknd released two more mixed tapes that same year, 2011. All three albums were acclaimed by critics, which led to The Weeknd getting signed to Republic Records, who also produced music for Drake, Owl City and Florence and the Machine.
In late 2012, all three albums were remastered and released in stores as “Trilogy.” This made finding “House of Balloons” on limited edition (non-bootleg) vinyl in my local record store all the more surprising.
One thing I’m somewhat bothered by is the album art. The original album cover featured a black and white, Polaroid-style photo of naked lady in a bath full of balloons. It was that beautiful, grungy-looking graphic that initially drew me to the album.
The new cover still reflects the sexual themes of the album, but not nearly as well in my opinion as the original cover that came with the digital download.
The two-record album was pressed on two different shades of pink, another allusion to the sexual imagery present throughout the album.
“House of Balloons” showcases the R&B artist’s consistently smooth command over a diverse array of vocal arrangements. The Weeknd blends R&B, hip hop, dubstep, soul and minimalist vibrations masterfully.
“Open your hand, take a glass/ Don’t be scared, I’m right here/ Even though, you don’t roll/ Trust me girl, you wanna be high for this,” Tesfaye sings in the hook of “High For This,” the opening track on “House of Balloons.”
What might initially come off a two-dimensional mix of generic PBR&B tracks trying to capitalize on the success of artists like Drake and Frank Ocean is actually a lot more dynamic than that. From the epic, echoing cadence of “Loft Music” to the hauntingly-alluring, viciously-blunt ballad “Twenty Eight,” “House of Balloons” is one of the best records released in recent years, R&B or otherwise.
The two-year journey “House of Balloons” took from my hard drive to my record collection speaks volumes to the pursuance of The Weeknd’s grand artistic ambition.
Watch music videos from The Weeknd right here [explicit content]: