Low-Key Likes: “House of Balloons”

by Louis Chavey | April 6, 2020

Welcome to Low-Key Likes, a digestible album recommendation that aims to cater the listening experience to varying tastes and schedules. Each issue, I plan to introduce a relatively unknown album. This might involve exploring a popular artist’s old work or simply delving into an unknown artist’s newer projects. I’ll begin with the necessary context and a description of the project. Next, I’ll provide reasoning for why the project warrants a front-to-back listen. The last but most important component is that I’ll dig deeper into talking about the songs specifically and making multiple, different recommendations based on certain criteria in the hope of appealing to the respective ways readers listen to music. In light of the recent release of The Weeknd’s latest album, After Hours, we’ll be looking at House of Balloons, his debut mixtape.

In 2011, The Weeknd, or Abel Tesfaye, was far from the megastar he is today. Tesfaye was unknown even following the success he saw after House of Balloons, and he continuously shied away from media attention until two years later. While the project was generally well-received, it was also an innovative take on R&B that helped pave the way for the more eclectic sounds of the present.

Without wasting a single second, House of Balloons submerges the listener into an atmosphere of despair. The cold and industrial yet unique instrumentals provide the backdrop for the angelic vocals somewhat reminiscent of Michael Jackson, another pop star. One quick listen to the lyrics, however, will unveil yet another layer of despair: Tesfaye croons about a hollow life rife with sex and drugs. He is trapped in a dark, bottomless pit of hedonism. Though he desperately tries to claw himself out of it, he eventually loses his grip and can only watch as the dim light at the top—and all the hope that comes along with it—fades from view. House of Balloons is an experience of that endless fall into the fast-approaching, enveloping darkness; there is no reprieve from the hopelessness of impending doom.

On most music streaming services, House of Balloons is only the first ten tracks of Trilogy, a re-release of Tesfaye’s first three mixtapes combined into one album. If you have the time, House of Balloons begs for a front-to-back listen. There is a sort of indescribable, irreplaceable quality to Tesfaye’s falsetto that is so addicting, and the backing instrumentals allow this unique voice to truly shine. These are the two main contributing factors to the album’s ambience, so even putting it on shuffle play while doing other tasks will create more or less the same feel as a front-to-back listen.

If an hour-long album doesn’t sound appealing, House of Balloons has some amazing cuts that still warrant a listen. In my opinion, the best songs off the project are “The Morning,” “The Knowing,” and “Loft Music,” the latter of which has one of the best and most vivid instrumentals of the project. The second half of the song, however, still marks a shift back to the ethereal, despondent tone. “The Morning” and “The Knowing” feature the best vocal performances on House of Balloons, and “The Knowing” may even contend for one of the best in Tesfaye’s career. The tracks that appeal to more modern pop sensibilities are “The Morning” and “The Party & The After Party.” The former is propelled by a smooth, catchy hook that helped cement it as one of Tesfaye’s greatest songs. “The Party & The After Party” has a short refrain that I couldn’t seem to get out of my head: “With your Louis V. bag, tats on your arms / High heel shoes make you six feet tall.” Reminiscent of today’s chart-topping rap hits, the cadence and delivery of these two short lines are complemented by an emphatic break in the beat.

Categories: Entertainment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s