Monarch Music Minute: The Weeknd, Justice and The Narrative
The Weeknd – ‘Starboy’ 💿💿💿
Ever since debuting with “House of Balloons” back in 2011, The Weeknd, born Abel Tesfaye, has consistently sought out to reinvent R&B. In his quest, he’s mostly found success. Following his first three mixtapes, which were later compiled and released as “Trilogy,” the Toronto crooner signed to Republic Records a year later with his own imprint, XO. On Nov. 25, The Weeknd released “Starboy.”
His cohesive trilogy of mixtapes reimagined R&B with its unconventional intimacy shrouded in dark, ambient clouds of production. 2013’s “Kiss Land,” The Weeknd’s first studio album, served as his official debut and expanded upon the aforementioned releases.
His sophomore effort, “Beauty Behind the Madness,” accelerated his commercial success and pop stardom, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
The release of “Starboy,” however, lacks the stellar quality its name promises. Even with the assistance of Daft Punk, Lana Del Rey and Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd fails to offer an otherworldly album.
The album’s opening, title track acknowledges his claim to fame over production from Daft Punk: “Look what you’ve done / I’m a motherf—in’ starboy.”
“Sidewalks” features Kendrick Lamar and finds an auto-tuned Tesfaye reflecting on his rough journey from obscurity to worldwide recognition.
An electric slow jam, “Die For You” puts Tesfaye into submission with romantic complications over lush strides of synths.
“I Feel It Coming” closes the album, finding upliftment in its lyrics and Daft Punk-assisted instrumental.
At over an hour, The Weeknd carries over familiar themes, cramming “Starboy” with mostly lackluster tracks and a few gems to give it some shine.
Justice – ‘Woman’ 💿💿💿💿
About a decade ago, the electronic pair from Paris – comprised of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay – launched to global success with their debut album “†” (pronounced “Cross.”) Singles like “D.A.N.C.E.” and “Phantom” ignited dance floors. The French duo took a five-year hiatus after the release of their sophomore album, “Audio, Video, Disco.” in 2011. On Nov. 18, Augé and de Rosnay returned with “Woman,” released by Ed Banger Records.
Justice is often, and quite reasonably, compared to fellow French technicians, Daft Punk. It’s understandable since both have embraced similar elements in their respective discographies. If anything, Justice is almost like a younger brother that’s influenced by their cooler, older sibling, but still manages to find their own niche.
While their second studio project drew back on the explosive energy present on their initial release, “Woman” achieves success by sticking to their roots. Even though their latest record is far from groundbreaking, it still shakes the earth and forces its listeners to move.
A choir unfolds before a surge of the Parisian’s signature bass slaps strike in the album’s lead single and opening track, “Safe and Sound.”
Smooth in transition, “Pleasure” picks up where the previous song leaves off. Diamond Nights’ Morgan Phalen lends his falsetto: “Use imagination / As a destination / ’Long as you believe / Then you have the key.”
“Stop” is slower in tempo and sonically recalls as much nostalgia as its lyrics do.
“Woman” doesn’t offer any significant innovation, but perhaps that’s what Justice intended. Their safe approach, however, still invites dangerous, danceable tracks reminiscent of their earlier days.
The Narrative – ‘Golden Silence’ 💿💿💿💿
Originally from Long Island and formed in 2007, The Narrative is Suzie Zeldin and Jesse Gabriel. Since their inception, the New York indie band has released four projects and relocated to Nashville. On Dec. 2, the duo followed up their debut, self-titled album with “Golden Silence.”
The duo initially sought to complete “Golden Silence” several years back in a barn they rented for a month in upstate New York. Zeldin and Gabriel, however, ran across complications resulting in a delayed release. Eventually, the two finished recording their sophomore effort at different locations in New York and New Jersey.
“Moving Out” opens the album up like a sweet sunrise. In its opening lines, their voices showcase fluid harmony over beautiful melodies as they yearn for escape: “I wanna get out of the suburbs / Let my hair grow wild / And find a place I don’t need money just to raise a child.”
Their lead single, “Chasing A Feeling,” exudes as much jubilance in its sound as its preceding track.
Embodying Americana sensibilities, “Toe the Line” boasts a smooth blend of instruments that enhances the lyrics: “And we’ve got a long road / But we’ve got a burning coal / Sometimes it feels too hot to hold / I hope it never goes, I hope it never goes cold.”
“Golden Silence” is full of sincerity, tells stories of struggle and feels like the soundtrack to a Sundance film. The time and effort invested into this project definitely pay off in the end. At nearly 50 minutes, Zeldin and Gabriel’s voices pleasantly melt over the warmth of each song’s carefully crafted lyrics and production.
💿 — Face palm.
💿💿 — Eh…
💿💿💿 — We’re getting there.
💿💿💿💿 — I’ll listen to it twice, even.
💿💿💿💿💿 — Hell yes!