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The Weeknd’s Dawn FM is existential sound trip

SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil - The Philippine Star
The Weekndâs Dawn FM is existential sound trip

Abel Tesfaye as The Weeknd is on a journey in his latest album and as what usually happens during long drives, a radio station provides the sounds. In this case, it is 103.5 Dawn FM which is located in the middle of nowhere on your dial. Actor Jim Carrey as the DJ issues the invitation to listen. “You’ve been in the dark too long. It’s time to step into the light and accept your fate with open arms.” Drive on.

Oh oh! Tesfaye is off on some creepy trip again. As he has shown earlier, this guy has a penchant for the weird on the threshold of the horrific. Think sex, drugs, violence, etc. on a binge, the way he sees them. Think madness but with beauty behind it. This new album also titled Dawn FM has a lot of that and more.

This is the fourth studio album by The Weeknd. It comes after the massive hit Blinding Lights. As before, Michael Jackson is all over the tracks. It cannot be helped. Tesfaye does have the pipes and he does that kind of ‘80s New Wave synthpop wonderfully just like MJ did in that long ago time. Spiced liberally with electronica, the sounds of Dawn FM pulsates, sparkles, dances. Here is an album to get spaced out with on the floor. But there is more.

Carrey, who I see as Dawn FM’s Charon paddling on the river Styx asks: “Scared?” Then adds: “Don’t worry. We’ll be there to hold your hand and guide you through this painless transition.”

The fourth studio album by The Weeknd, Dawn FM is a tuneful, existential trip and it is not painless at all. Underlying the celebratory mood is The Weeknd’s idea of death and what comes after. Groove to the brilliant first single Take My Breath while losing it. Gasoline here is not fuel, it is for burning. Less Than Zero is beyond the end. How Do I Make You Love Me? denotes despair. Every Angel is Terrifying in the stopover in Purgatory.

What then are the chances that Carrey can indeed lead us to the light? Maybe if you can answer his question in the Phantom Regret, which closes the album: “Were you ever in tune with the song life is humming?” Think. Think.

This early, it can already be said that Tesfaye’s Dawn FM is one of the best albums of the year. It is a solid, well-thought-out production of great pop sounds. And who would have thought that existential musings laid out on upbeat music can work? Only The Weekend.

Also featured in Dawn FM are the legendary musician Quincy Jones in A Tale by Quincy about his growing-up years. Filmmaker Josh Safdie narrates the sci-fi-tinged Every Angel is Terrifying. Tyler the Creator raps in Here We Go Again and so does Lil Wayne in I Heard You’re Married.

Radio concept in other albums

Now, the concept of a radio station broadcast as the bed for an album is nothing new. I do not know if it was what inspired The Weekend to come up with Dawn FM, but The Carpenters, remember brother and sister Richard and Karen of the truckload of hits, did do a radio program for their album Now and Then. It is, I believe, the best album made by the duo.

Released in 1973, it included the cuts like Sing, This Masquerade, Heather, Jambalaya (On the Bayou) and I Can’t Make Music on Side A of the album. Side B is entirely something else. With the lovely Yesterday Once More as a pair of bookends, it featured a “radio program” with a DJ, The Guess the Golden Goodies Group Contest for listeners and a caller on the phone.

Of course, the DJ plays music and these are his sounds of ‘60s goodies as performed by Karen. Fun, Fun, Fund, End of the World, Da Doo Ron Ron, Dead Man’s Curve, Johnny Angel, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, Our Day Will Come and One Fine Day. Excellent choices, I must say.

The same goes for the tracks in Mahal Kong Radyo, the album where The CompanY also pretended to be on a radio show and had legendary screen villainess Bella Flores guesting in the Bulaklak track. You all know that song, “Bubuka-bubuka ang bulaklak,” by the Viva Hot Babes. And if you have seen Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, you will know that the movie spins around a radio show. So does the soundtrack album.

ABEL TESFAYE

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