2020 was a year of things that no one expected, and putting aside that one specific thing that’s still happening, I never thought I would end up liking a Weeknd album and putting it on my year-end list. Granted, I’ve liked a few songs of his and some chunks of his albums, but I was really feeling After Hours, an album met with critical and commercial success, especially “Blinding Lights” being the longest-running single in the Billboard charts at 90 weeks. That meant it was still big in 2021 along with the other single, “Save Your Tears” performing well that year with the Ariana Grande remix.
Now after all that, we had to wonder what direction he’d go in with his next album after releasing the single “Take My Breath.” That track was good, maybe not Blinding Lights good, but it still had that synth-pop aesthetic, and we keep getting hints on an album coming and into the first week of 2022… we got it. Dawn FM is now here, and coming in the first Friday of 2022, no less?
Not to mention, there were other interesting in the run-up to this with some features from Tyler, The Creator and Lil’ Wayne, an appearance from Quincy Jones, and… Jim Carrey!? Oh and the pièce de résistance….Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never is involved heavily in the album. I knew I had to tune into this album. and lo and behold, what did I think of Dawn FM?
The weirder and more experimental The Weeknd gets, the better and more interesting his work is. The album incorporates a psychedelic radio aesthetic, almost similar to that last OPN album I talked about, which The Weeknd executive produced and is featured on the track “No Nightmares”. (Sidenote: Uncut Gems is the best thing to happen to those two.) There’s also existentialism themes, as the album is framed around “what if the listener died and is stuck in purgatory?” While they’re in there, they’re listening to some tunes along with some narration from Jim Carrey as you go through the transition from life to death, from the high times to the low, and of course the relationship stuff the Weeknd often goes on about.
This is one of those albums that isn’t solely defined by one genre. The first track after the intro with that cheesy radio jingle is “Gasoline,” and the vocal delivery/performance does sound like something you get from an ’80s track.
It’s 5 AM, I’m nihilist
I know therе’s nothing after this (After this)
Obsessing over aftermaths
Apocalypse and hopelessness (Hopelessness)
However, “How Do I Make You Love Me?” kicked things up, entering more in the dance-pop veneer and the way he vocalizes on here with the chorus:
“How do I make you love me?
How do I make you fall for me?
How do I make you want me
And make it last eternally?”
It was an amazing vocal performance while still being in line with what the Weeknd usually does on a track like this. “Sacrifices” has really grown on me quick with the electro-funk vibe sampling from “I Want To Thank You” by Alicia Myers, and “I’ll Do Anything For You” by Denroy Morgan, and I did recognize something from the former when it came to the chorus. It had a familiar feeling once that hit, and I fell in love with this track but if I had to go with top favorite track on here, it’s “Out of Time”, this sleek, sensual sounding track that has that city-pop flavor. Usually, knowing my anime-loving ass, I’d describe it as something that would fit in an anime opening or AMV but then again this does sample a Japanese city-pop song called “Midnight Pretenders” by 亜蘭知子 (Tomoko Aran), so you can’t blame me for believing that.
Let’s get the features out of the way here: Tyler, The Creator’s verse on “Here We Go…. Again” was good if not abbreviated. It felt like it needed a few more bars, but what we got is solid, and Lil’ Wayne’s verse on “I Heard You’re Married” is fine, although hearing him on this pop production does sound odd . Speaking of the production, while OPN handles the majority of it on here, some of the bigger singles on here produced by well-known pop producer Max Martin (also an executive producer here) along with Oscar Holter. There’s also names like Calvin Harris, Swedish House Mafia, DaHeala, Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys (yes, you read that right!) involved in here, and this is the sound I’ve been hoping The Weeknd would progress to. While the style gets more experimental and weird on here and his darker R&B elements have dissipated a bit with regulars like Illangelo not on here, I actually love that he’s getting weirder with his music while still trying to use the usual suspects to make hits like “Take My Breath”.
Speaking of weird, “Every Angel is Terrifying” basically told us that the next album is called “After Life” with an ad for it, and that was after a spoken word from Josh Safdie aka one half of the Safdie Brothers. Again, Uncut Gems was the best thing to happen to the Weeknd. In the latter half of the album, tracks like “Don’t Break My Heart” and “Less than Zero” were just good on a first listen, but after a few more spins, they were part of my favorite tracks as well. “Less Than Zero” caps out as a perfect ending of the album, although the real ending of the album is “Phantom Regret by Jim” with spoken word narration by Jim Carrey closing things off, and I want to say that this isn’t far off of what Carrey often does in movie roles.
In fact, overall, I absolutely love this album, maybe even more than After Hours. While Hours was him getting more in that 80s aesthetic and dipping his toes into weirder production and songwriting styles, Dawn FM is him diving full-on into that aesthetic, coming out with one of the most extravagant and unique pop albums in some time, and while the year is still new, this is already a contender of Album of the Year. Yes, folks, I fell for this album hard.
Final Verdict: BUY IT. Tune in to the number one station to free your soul! Dawn 103.5!
DAWN FM is available through XO/Republic Records via streaming services and digital download. At the time of this review, the CD version will be released on January 28th and cassette and vinyl will be on April 29, 2022.