The Weeknd's music came to us like a cold front from Canada, gorgeous R&B melodies shrouded in lo-fi sound and cool atmosphere. After three excellent EPs (collected together in Trilogy
), Abel Tesfaye has released his first big-budget album, Kiss Land
, and thankfully he hasn't lost his underground cool along the way. The same creeping menace that gripped us in songs like "What You Need" is in full force on songs like "The Town," a song about rekindling an old flame after time on tour that echoes its feelings of longing with dramatic synth work. Though Tesfaye's lyrics can fall onto the lothario side, he's also got a romantic way about him, breathily cooing "this world's not for us...I can teach you to dream" he entreats on the gorgeous "Love in the Sky." Musically, he keeps things fascinating throughout. The brutality of his Portishead-inspired beat in "Belong to the World" helps send that song's disaffected love lyrics home. And though his duet with Drake is a bit of a snoozer, the upbeat, relatively carefree "Wanderlust" saves the day by easing the tension. The album's murky final tracks see Tesfaye showing off at what he does best — creating epic (and epically sad) R&B anthems, like the hip-hop equivalent to tracks from The Cure's Disintegration
. Kiss Land
may be a downer, but Tesfaye's catharsis makes for a beautiful listening experience.