What better way to kick off a new year in music than with the highly anticipated “Dawn FM,” almost two years since his last full-length record, Abel Tesfaye (more commonly known as The Weeknd) followed up his 2020 album “After Hours” with a sequel similar in sound, but a theme and atmosphere entirely its own.
From the very first track on the album, we are transported in time to an ’80s-era radio station, “Dawn FM,” emceed by none other than Jim Carrey. The general sound of the album flows through this throwback theme, which feels like something straight out of an episode of “Stranger Things.” This throwback, disco-esque sound is not entirely new for The Weeknd, as tracks like “After Hours,” “Blinding Lights” and “In Your Eyes” also share a similar nostalgia for this era. However, his latest project’s songs seem to fit more cohesively together within the work as a whole. Throughout the album, The Weeknd utilizes not only seamless transitions between songs but also goes as far as to incorporate ads and other radio-related spoofs to truly immerse the listener into this world that he has created. Perhaps no song better encapsulates the incredible effort undertaken by The Weeknd to create a uniform atmosphere on this project than “Every Angel is Terrifying,” in which Tesfaye begins by harmonizing over a synth-heavy beat before transitioning to him bellowing a sonic poem, then to an advertisement for an upcoming movie––“The exotic, bizarre and beautiful world of ‘After Life’.” As is the case with the whole album, throughout the course of the song the listener cannot help but feel as though they are hearing the real Dawn FM through the radio of a Mustang GT.
As for the quality of the songs themselves, The Weeknd continues to do what he does best, which is utilize his incredible vocal talent. Tesfaye has one of the most unique, velvety voices in the industry and is able to use his voice for many different styles of singing. Whether it be a grandiose, over-the-top tone on “Gasoline” or somberly crooning “I can’t get it out of my head” on “Less than Zero,” The Weeknd’s singing acumen is on full display on this project. His key ability to emote and communicate the sentiment of a song through singing allows the listener to better understand the meanings behind the music and empathize with the artist. On “Best Friends,” his passionately strained delivery fully embodies someone who is afraid to get too close to someone. In saying “Oh, I don’t want/to be responsible for your heart if we fall/’cause I’ll get clumsy and tear it apart” in an almost pleading delivery, we can truly understand his turmoil.
Continuing on the positive side, the production on the album, likewise, is consistent, both to the project’s benefit and detriment. On the positive side, the quality is solid. It is almost hard to believe a song such as “Out of Time” with its groovy, spacey sound isn’t from 40 years ago. The use of the soul sample in “Is There Someone Else” is sonically perfect. However, the album does suffer slightly from a lack of variation in style. While the cohesive theme is one of the strengths of “Dawn FM,” the project could have benefitted from a greater variation of production techniques within its overarching idea. This time period in music from which the album draws its inspiration, while largely influenced by this synth, post-disco sound, was also characterized by a great variety of genres. Given that this project is meant to be a representation of listening to a radio station from said era, additional influences of other styles like rock or punk, would have been welcome. Similarly, the album’s utilization of features seemed slightly out of place (and time) on this project. While Tyler the Creator and Lil Wayne are both undeniably talented artists, their inclusions on this album do not fit cohesively within the general soundscape created by The Weeknd, and may have been better off cut from the album. While both guests do try to embrace the melodic, moody atmosphere of “Dawn FM,” The Weeknd simply masters this skill to a higher degree, leaving the guest verses to be seemingly lackluster.
Listening to “Dawn FM” is as much an experience as it is a simple listen-through—it’s transportive. The Weeknd builds on the foundation for this style of music that he established for himself on “After Hours,” and produces a very enjoyable project. Phenomenal vocal performances, coupled with accurate and cohesive production elements ensure that the entire album is as smooth as the voice of the artist himself. While I cannot claim to experience the nostalgia for the 80’s that “Dawn FM” is attempting to conjure, The Weeknd creates such an intoxicating sound, that I feel like I was there all the same.
Best Tracks: “Best Friends,” “Take My Breath,” “Is There Someone Else?,” “Less than Zero”
Best Feature: Tyler, the Creator (“Here We Go… Again”)
Album Rating: 7.5/10