Swedish House Mafia – Paradise Again: Review

When it comes to supergroups in music, as fans, you won’t always get what you expected. Talent is derivative when you have multiple great minds working together, and they still deliver an album or song that is forgettable. Unfortunately, that’s how it is with Swedish House Mafia’s debut album, Paradise Again. Though one could forgive giving a benefit of the doubt, Until Now mix of remixes and originals never felt like it had a concrete direction. They had the hype and great music and continue to do so, but in the end, unless bias flows through veins, Paradise Again is another collection of forgettable music. So for every few great songs we get, there are momentous duds that sound half-written. Prior to its release, thoughts lingered, like are we getting a similar flop like Until Now or something refreshing for 2022? Unfortunately, so. Paradise Again has some solid songs, but a predominant lack of energy to grow beyond the standard keeps it from being anything more than an alright album.

The three artists who make up Swedish House Mafia, Axwell, Steve Angelo, and Sebastian Ingrosso, have two sides to their artistry, and both on the craft side. As live mixers and performers, they are some of the best, but as producers and writers, they tiptoe a line between blandness and an illusion of dreary-shadowy ambiance coded in this style of Electronic/House music. As producers, they are 50-50, usually hitting when they create a lavish pop coating, like on 2012’s “Don’t You Worry Child” and or 2021’s “Moth To A Flame.” Paradise Again isn’t devoid of them, and of the ones we get, most end up being great. Some include the vibrant EDM track “Heaven Takes You Home” and the darkly nuanced electro-pop “Another Minute.” The earwormy vocals match the energy–and elevate–the production’s impact.

Of their four singles released in anticipation for Paradise Again, “Moth To A Flame” and “Lifetime” are two that left an immediate impact. “Lifetime” blends melancholic R&B drum beats (subtle), and vocals, with contrasting dreamy and dreary synths. It shifts from some boorish sounds not too far back or forward in the tracklisting. Similarly, “Moth To A Flame” builds a beautiful synth-pop foundation and finds home within bleak overtures that Swedish House Mafia weaves together with The Weeknd’s ambient vocals. Despite hearing and understanding the context of their soundscape, the quality of music is rarer. Sure, parts of the album are grand and progressive; however, it slips with the one-dimensional like “Mafia” or lacks energy, like A$AP Rocky on “Frankenstein.” This lack of energy gets heard during the last third; you get entwined with conservative House and EDM, and you are left feeling underwhelmed–like other singles, “It Get’s Better” and “Redlight” with Sting, which came and went without leaving a burning sound bite in my head. 

“It Get’s Better” gets finicky with the percussion. It’s too warped into this need to get progressive that it loses touch on what was working for the first minute. It’s a rough EDM track with dronish snares and a stop-gap of jarring cowbells midway. However, “Redlight,” which follows suit, also has a similar shift mid-song, but it’s smoother as it retains its sonic motif of dreary ambiance. Interloping the first verse and chorus of “Roxanne” by The Police, Sting’s rerecorded vocals diminish its effectiveness. It has this essence where it would have worked better as an instrumental, like “Paradise Again,” which perfectly delivers a darkened ambient progressive house core. For “Redlight,” it could have had a little more life, and instead, I’m left drowning out Sting or skipping further down the tracklist. 

Swedish House Mafia, as producers, don’t bring many unique ideas into the fray, often showing both hands: one where all plain linings of EDM/House running through their veins, and another that offers more to build off. Think of it like Poker, where one of their hands contains a set of pairs, while you have a classic straight flush in the other. It’s evident how perplexing the differences between what works and what doesn’t are when it comes to the soundscape they give us. But when it comes to the good, and sometimes lavish, songs, they are shifting away from the standard complexions of EDM, like on “Can U Feel It,” or the wrought-house track “19:30,” and shift to production stacked with these various elements from other genres. Upon listening, you’d wish they had consistent energy flowing through their veins, and we’d get more stuff like “Lifetime,” but unfortunately, we’re left shuffling between a few half-assed ideas and superb works of music.

Like the final song, “For You,” the length of Paradise Again is overlong. The 67-minute album could have gotten trimmed down for a fluent progression in sound, but it’s disjointed and underwhelming. Though there are a lot of great tracks on here, and “Lifetime” will see an “exhausting” amount of replays, I won’t find myself returning to it from start to finish anytime soon.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

The Weeknd – Dawn FM: Review

We’ve taken an exhaustively fun and thrilling ride from his debut to After Hours; from a front-row seat, we hear The Weeknd encapsulate and transition into 80s nostalgia with composure as the adrenaline rushes high. But The Weeknd, along with co-producers, don’t let nostalgia shroud over the complexities to keep sonic sensibilities modern. Dawn FM continues that, and more effectively. In a proposed trilogy, After Hours is now the appetizer, as we hear his progression in maturity – musically. However, The Weeknd gives us an afterthought – after the fun and thrills, what was it all for when you’re still left gutted with past regrets. He takes note of late-night radio and creates a similar atmosphere to parallel the sentiments of the average listener – it also maintains a proper balance of genre influence and his intricate ear for music with his producers.

Fans of The Weeknd are no stranger to his idolization of actor/comedian Jim Carrey and his soft-tender-NPR-like vocals add visceral layers to the slight melancholic sounds for the dance floor. As it transitions from the intro, Carrey’s vocals remind us what’s arriving: an album reminiscent of the deep cuts from the genres from where he’s taking influence. However, more surprises come from its slight detachment from the first single, “Take Me Breath.” 

Calling the sounds of Dawn FM melancholic, I’ll put, my perspective speaks on the vagueness of the sound in comparison to past productions. We’ve heard The Weeknd flow in both directions – melancholic or heightened pop – and there is less of the latter. However, It’s something which this isn’t devoid of, evident with “Take My Breath,” produced by Max Martin and Oscar Holter. At first, you get a whiff of the upbeat 80s electronic and new wave dance styles – from the riffs to the synths, I was left in awe by the complexities within the production. It’s bombastic and fluid, encapsulating that visceral “Star Boy” energy while embodying different themes. It comes after the darkly-digital electronic track “How Do I Make You Love Me,” as it weaves these hypnotic melodies with the multi-layered production. It’s a testament to the producers and engineers to craft an album, where if you have your transition setting to zero seconds, it brings one constant flow from start to finish.

Despite some of the dance floor coating, it plays like listening to a late-night station focused on delivering danceable vibes while keeping your head afloat through the depth of the songwriting, interludes, and production style. Like I’ve mentioned before, The Weeknd has been through countless trials and tribulations, akin to a consistent lifestyle he has portrayed. He’s never shied away from it, and frankly, we have gotten some of his biggest hits, like “Party Monster” and “Low Life,” from it. However, shit starts coming back around, and he’s finding himself in purgatory lamenting. Like his album cover, interjecting thoughts of his wrongs with little rights create an embodiment of a man stuck in the dark. The potent lyrics are as effective as the melodies, which The Weeknd brings plenty.

“Is There Someone Else?” for example, see The Weeknd reflecting on a nudge that has him seeing his partner finding comfort in someone else after constant fighting within their relationship. On the surface, we hear these regrets, his lack of understanding, and that unbearable weight as he tries to define himself. But one thing kept rattling through my head – how does it weave together in the bigger picture? “Less Than Zero” sees The Weeknd adding another dimension to his person, and part of it comes from understanding both perspectives. On “Less Than Zero,” The Weeknd sings: “Remember I was your hero, yeah/I’d wear your heart like a symbol/I couldn’t save you from my darkest truth of all/I know/I’ll always be less than zero,” which could symbolize a few things – his infidelity or his lifestyle.

The Weeknd isn’t always headstrong, but the production doesn’t sway you in opposing directions. The production for Dawn FM comes primarily from Max Martin, The Weeknd, and Oneohtrix Point Never, with an occasional co-lead from Swedish House Mafia. The latter produces the second single and immediate standout, “Sacrifice.” The dazzling production takes a lot of cues from funk/synth-pop hybrids as it incorporates slick electric guitar riffs with a rustic gloss. Unfortunately, I can’t keep gushing about the album without noting what didn’t work for me: the features. Usually, a Weeknd song with a feature hits, or it doesn’t lower/raise the quality, but on Dawn FM, it’s one for two. Tyler, the Creator comes with a little of column A and column B, while Lil Wayne phases in and out. The album maybe could have flourished brighter if The Weeknd went solo. But that is neither here nor there because the features don’t completely diminish the return.

Dawn FM is nearly perfect, even when it is a little loaded with slightly weak archetypal hybrids near the end and one forgettable feature. I was left transfixed through this concept, and it plays to the strengths of the artist and producers. It will see steady rotation, especially as I, along with other fans, dance the night away.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

A New Era For The Weeknd – Talking “Take My Breath”

80s nostalgia has been a new trend in pop music that hasn’t fizzled as more artists begin to steer toward it. In 2020, Dua Lipa and The Weeknd embraced it and elevated the sound, further launching them to megastardom. Recently, many artists have begun to embrace this trend and morph with their style, like Marina and her nostalgic shift on Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land. However, many artists haven’t been able to make the kind splash Dua Lipa and The Weeknd. The Weeknd continues to have an impact with his new single, “Take My Breath.” We hear an expansion of his range as we see a dynamic shift from his last album, After Hours, as he conquers a new nostalgic decade.

On After Hours, The Weeknd found proper equilibrium amongst modern styles and the sonic tenacities of pop music in the 80s. From “Save Your Tears” to “Heartless,” you can hear how these young producers have the will to learn and harness a style, further adding weight to their range. Like Mark Ronson mentioned on a recent episode of the podcast, Switched On Pop: while working with Amy Winehouse, he wasn’t aware of the music she wanted to emulate, but he learned, and they made dynamite songs together. The slow and tempered jazz music didn’t fit within his limits of comfortability before, and he makes it work. It makes the production of After Hours stand out more than his previous works. Fortunately, he had Max Martin to polish the electric-nostalgia overtones. 

As one of the most notable pop producers since the 90s, Max Martin has been elevating pop year by year, which is rare to see in a producer. It continues to translate as he blends the synths with bubbly percussion and a groovy bass lick. Co-Producer, Oscar Holter, helps blend layers, which shift the parameters between disco and synth-wave. None of these have been inherent strengths of Max Martin, with Oscar filling in the talent with synths. It makes the production of “Take My Breath” breathtaking as you see masters at work.

Mirroring the style of Eurodance and Electronic music from the 90s, which focused on catchy grooves instead of memorable choruses, has given this song a different platform that it wouldn’t have had. It is like “Rhythm Is A Dancer” by Snap, which perfectly defines this notion of the groove, opposed to the catchy chorus. Like most songs of that caliber, from the 90s, it was about the sound, and we’ve seen it with songs like “Better Off Alone” by Alice DJ. Adding to the nuances of the 90s is an elongated opening that teases the listener before the drop. Its translation throughout the years in pop and electronic music is as dynamic as gun noises in hip-hop production. 

However, underneath these luscious overtones are remnants of 80s synth-wave acts like Nena and John Carpenter. The vibrant synths carry their weight as we embark on this new sonic journey with The Weeknd, which continues to be as transcendent as the few instances on After Hours – “Save Your Tears” and “Too Late.” Like those songs, he grabs what he is given and elevates them to a higher ceiling, especially on the dance floor. I’ve never felt such passion within the confines of its BPM. It isn’t like the bold colors of the dance floors that once ravaged nightclubs during the 70s and 80s. What he does is transfix our muscles to groove to a smooth Michael Jackson-esque groove, and at the end of the day, that’s all we could ever want. 

Assuming the album is similar to the sound of “Take My Breath,” it will be different than After Hours. The Weeknd’s fixation on lights, especially from the stark beauty of Sin City, were mood changers for the music that mixed the gutless partier and the emotional romantic. “Take My Breath” sparks the romantic inside, with temptation and passion fueling his desires. I, for one, cannot wait for the release of The Dawn as he drives home new sensations that come from the lights that shine on you.

Check Out “Take My Breath” wherever music is streaming or on YouTube.

List: Ranking The Weeknd Discography

8. My Dear Melancholy

Not even Gaefflestein can make this album enjoyable. It’s a real snooze fest from front to back. Upon its release I remember a very lukewarm reaction to the EP, but that was just giving him the benefit of the doubt. This new revisit, however, showed missteps along the way to deliver something that was once his strongest construct in his music. 

The Gaefflestein instrumentals elevate the two songs with them, but nothing can really save the barely drawn out and yawn inducing My Dear Melancholy.

7. Kiss Land

There is a lot that can be said about Kiss Land. After three critically acclaimed mixtapes and a hype unseen from a Canadian artist since Drake in 2008 (Sorry Carly Rae Jepsen). His attempted insertion in the major pop stratosphere was lackluster to say the least. It plays it safe by sticking to his dark mood – synth wave R&B style, but without the depth seen on his previous projects. It always feels like he is treading too many familiar waters instead exploring these luscious sounds more.

It is perplexing how on the surface it met the criteria of what was to be expected from The Weeknd, and especially on his major label debut. With a bigger budget there would be an expected elevation in production, but even with the long runtimes and moody stories that are enveloped in the instrumental didn’t match the quality of his three earlier mixtapes.

There are a number of solid standouts like “The Town,” and “Wanderlust,” which has the most polished and unique instrumental of the bunch. “Wanderlust,” in particular lets the 80s style guitar strings create the overall feel for the synth-pop track. It’s the small nuances like these in the Kiss Land that make if a good debut.

6. Thursday

Thursday is the “weakest” of the trilogy of mixtapes that make up The Weeknd’s first compilation album. It takes too much focus on redundant slow melodies interluding these more bombastic songs that standout (by early Weeknd standards).

Thursday’s highlights include “The Zone” featuring Drake and “Lonely Star.”

“The Zone,” has one of the more colorful instrumentals on the tape and buoyed gravitas where it doesn’t sink you too deep, but allows the immediate enjoyment from the subtle strings underneath powerful drum patterns.

Like most of Thursday, the instrumentations steal the show, which in turn allows the Weekend to play around more the music. It is the most ambitious tape of the initial three, specifically with the consistent styles brought by the drum patterns like on “The Birds Pt. 1,” and “Pt. 2.”

The variations include dream-pop like sequences like on “Lonely Star,” to the downtempo dubstep use in tracks like “Life of the Party,” and the title track. And to that effect it makes great use of what they work with, but at times feels like there is more that is missing. It could have just been expectations at the time

5. After Hours

Though one of the biggest albums of 2020, After Hours carried was a sense an essence more attune to the term overrated. However, It doesn’t apply for the second half of After Hours, which finally makes solid use of the new-wave sounds of the 80s. He brought it to the forefront (for the certain niche population of him) with modern takes on instrumental patterns from the era and opening new doors.

The first half slows the tempo of the music by delivering some elegant soft and slow moments, but the overall progression becomes slightly forgettable. It could mostly be that The Weeknd has not predominately hit with his slower-tempo’d pop tracks in recent memory. But it isn’t devoid of great moments/songs like the moody and instrumentally simple “Scared to Live,” which shows The Weeknd’s vocal talent in ballad form. There are a lot of moments where The Weeknd disregards the typical sensitivities based around cold emptiness and channels more longing and heartbreak.

But if we are being honest, After Hours really benefits from having illustrious instrumentations from the producers, and especially legend Max Martin. His bass, drum, keys and guitar work, along with programming gives After Hours it’s own stage to shine in those moments, specifically on “Blinding Lights,” which is a real masterwork.

The prototypical new-wave pop track that exhilarates the drum and synths patterns by focusing it on a 171 BPM speed, which was very common for most drum beats of the 80s. You can hear that kind of consistency in the hits of many bands of the time, like Duran Duran and Joe Jackson.

4. Starboy

Starboy was a real turning point in The Weeknd’s long and effervescent career. After ending a triumphant run in the R&B/Pop – stratosphere with Beauty Behind the Madness, his new direction incorporated more new-wave and synth new-wave elements into his music.

Like the recently released After Hours, the new-wave influence The Weeknd brings is a call back to 80s Pop music that once lost footing with more artists steering into an electric-centric direction. But artists like The Weeknd, and others, infuse the unique qualities of 80s music into the instrumentation and modernizes. “I Feel It Coming,” is a strong component of that by bringing smooth disco textures and new-wave synthesizers into the echo chamber and mixing together a lush instrumentation from The Weeknd and his core, plus Daft Punk.

Other highlights of 80s synth new-wave include “Party Monster,” and “Secrets.” The latter of which is this remarkable cut produced by Doc McKinney, The Weeknd himself, and Cirkut (producer of Dark Horse and Roar by Katy Perry) that feels like a remnant of the 80s brought into the light by the virtuoso of the people involved. 

However, there are slight shift into the electronic side of the new-wave genre/sound gave The Weeknd many instances to switch his deliveries from certain conventions, like on “False Alarm.” The track opens to The Weeknd breaking down his verses with a hyper stylized melody and the chorus line shifts into a fire alarm going off, but its instead of the blaring noise it’s The Weeknd yelling the title. The smooth transition in the instrumental from the verses to the chorus lines are like a stellar bomb of lights playing the music in your head visually.

Starboy does extend long at 70 minutes, but most of the time the pace is in constant motion and the way you breeze through the tracklist isn’t an afterthought. The underlying currents of the instrumentation reels you with hypnotic consistency.

3. Beauty Behind the Madness

Contrary to the predominant style/approach on Kiss Land, The Weeknd shifts from the blues to the rhythm. The dimensions brought about by The Weeknd’s bombastic overtures that he creates with his producers.

Full of sultry and sex-fueled anthems you wonder how “Can’t Feel My Face,” got a nomination for a Kids Choice Award. Did kids love cocaine in 2016? If only there was an answer. But in all seriousness, like the follow up to this, Starboy, it comes at you full force with great track after great track. There is the luscious and melodic “Often” that takes parallel look on fame and the tinted glasses based on it, and the moody despair of the story evoked in “The Hills.”

The production had definitely tightened in the transition from Kiss Land to this. It could be that with more producers and instrumentalist there was sheer focus on the alignment of the music to The Weeknd’s vocal BPM delivery brings a lot to the forefront. “Can’t Feel My Face” does so by adding the disco speed to the funk centric track.

Though not every track comes off 100% perfect, the amount of what could otherwise be considered skippable songs keeps you head over heels with hypnotic instrumentals and stellar melodies that keep your ears racing for more. It makes you overlook some of the rough patches along the way. 

2. House of Balloons

House of Balloons is The Weeknd’s debut mixtape that defined the low-profile hype. It embodies the necessity to show patience, as the detailed instrumentals and moody – morning after despair and regrets paint pictures of a night that leaves the mind weak, amongst other themes. 

It does so by commanding moods and sequencing the instrumentations to lay out the cohesiveness from both producer and artist. There are flashes where The Weeknd’s vocals don’t correspond to certain niches of R&B, but what positively deters it from them are it’s unconventional choices instrumentally. 

The sound is not as compartmentalized as other standards within the realm he was trying to break into is. There is more groove and emotional weight blended in two. House of Balloons, however, steers more into the blues aspect of the genre and uses alternative sounds to create a zoned in/spacey atmosphere. It’s what separates it from the other artists making music in the genre at the time, since it was heavily pop focused to create superstars. Its neck and neck with Echoes of Silence as one his best works to date.

1. Echoes of Silence

Echoes of Silence is not completely devoid of the typical lyrical content of a Weeknd project, but instead of expressing cold emptiness he is coming from a place of pure heartbreak and despair. It uses the dark-embroidered overtures to deliver with cadence. “XO/The Host,” and “Montreal,” builds upon this brooding mood created by his take on “Dirty Diana” by Michael Jackson.

Echoes of Silence gets the best components of House of Balloons and Thursday and builds upon them further. “Same Old Song,” is an embodiment of it, with croonish despair in his voice as he tries to flex his success it doesn’t match emotions held of his lost love. He plays it off like it is the same old song, but those emotions are deep rooted. He slowly builds his confidence back up to see the future, and Juicy J reaffirms that at the end with the hype man cameo. It is a great representation of the mixtape and The Weeknd as artist.

The Weeknd Delivers a Nauseatingly Beautiful Performance Behind the Madness.

When it comes to one of the biggest performances of the year, The Super Bowl Halftime Show, it’s hard to command a stage without any sort of “special” guests. Lady GaGa did so, Prince and Beyonce as well, as the latter two were influences on The Weeknd and how he’d present himself, amongst other things. And now he stands alongside them since he delivers a career defining performance. 

The performance opens with The Weeknd in a car centered on the streets of a gritty Las Vegas night, before he departs and ascends behind these holy lit doors performing “Starboy,” off Starboy. He descends the musical madness by giving us a triumphant performance revolved around the horrors of addiction. The performance leads us through a hall of mirrors, full of clones in bandage masks before The Weeknd walks down on stage with an army of clones and caps the performance with the monstrous hit “Blinding Lights.”

The cynicism within the party like destruction of his lyricism and the futuristic aesthetic that he implements mesh with elegance. The resulting sets, like the cyberpunk-ish choir/violinist stands and the hall of mirrors are representative of the many undercutting themes from his most recent music videos.

The Weeknd mentioned in the past that the reasoning behind the facial work aesthetic was to demonstrate this over relying necessity to please the world physically. Beauty is seen in the outer and not the inner for the luxuries one needs and The Weeknd demonstrates that through the disorienting choreography and camera work during “Can’t Feel My Face,” and after. It represent that notion and more in a way, only The Weeknd can for the kind of performance was expected and eventually delivered.

The cavalcade of songs he performed took us through the history of his greatest hits from House of Balloons to the more recent After Hours. Fortunately for The Weeknd all the hits he performed were significant turning points in his career where his sounds began to involve so effervescently. The visual aesthetic, at times, is a detachment from the ultra violent and mustard-like neon yellow that have been a consistent feature on his music visuals, due to the PG nature of the telecast. It was definitely another hump for them to climb over and the presentation represents a smooth sailing transition from paper to stadium. 

The intro carries some slight boring and tedious focus for like a minute or two, but the momentum continues as the performance does. Good thing it doesn’t act a deterrent since it is setting up the scene for The Weeknd to ascend.

Oneothrix Point Never (Daniel Lopatin) was the musical director for the performance. And with that knowledge you could definitely see the influence stylistically, but it leaves you in wonderment about how a non “PG,” show would look like. Either way, the performance was more than expected and definitive middle finger to the Academy for the snubs, as they will miss out on another show-stopping and powerhouse performance from the R&B/Pop Superstar.

Check Out The Performance Below!