The Weeknd’s creative growth evident on “DawnFM”

Owen Reimer, Entertainment Editor

Following the massive success of the double platinum album “After Hours” and a meme-able Super Bowl performance, Abel ‘The Weeknd’ Tesfaye could have taken a long break from recording and maintained a wildly popular persona. Instead of laying low, however, he dialed his previous record’s 80’s synth-pop inspirations up to ten to create “Dawn FM.” While Tesfaye had shown prolific songwriting abilities in the past, this new record is easily his most adventurous and impressive to date. 

The album plays as a radio station in the afterlife, hosted by none other than Jim Carrey. Throughout the project, Carrey interrupts as a ghostly DJ, and narrates to further propel the storyline. While many of the songs have different themes, the record still feels concise, as this play on a concept album allows Tesfaye to explore ideas such as existentialism and apocalypse while still keeping the music upbeat and catchy. 

In 2020’s “After Hours” Tesfaye experimented with a retro synth-heavy sound, incorporating elements of modern pop and his signature style to create a great throwback album. Instead of going with the same formula, “Dawn FM” showcases a lot more experimentation in this similar genre. 

By bringing in production powerhouses like Oneohtrix Point Never and Swedish House Mafia, The Weeknd wails over a symphony of blaring synth lines and swelling keys that border on overwhelming. Instead the instrumentation takes a partnering role with the vocals, which leads to something special.

Instead of strictly aiming for radio hits, Tesfaye makes bolder choices in each song which translates to a more interesting listening experience. The first song “Gasoline” features The Weeknd using a lower register of his voice that he has not displayed before. While this can be almost off putting at first, this choice, along with the off-kilter vocal distortion result is some uncanny verses that transition into one of the smoothest choruses of the project. 

Even the album version of the lead single “Take My Breath” features an extended dance cut that highlights the production. Everything lines up for a cohesive listening experience.

Further into the tracklist, Tesfaye takes heavy influence from the likes of Michael Jackson, going far enough to include an interlude from Quincy Jones, legendary producer of “Off The Wall” and “Thriller.” “Out of Time” especially takes the cascading keys and laid back groove that Jackson showcased such talents in. Instead of ripping off the already established style, however, Tesfaye takes his own direction with it and sounds better than ever. “Here We Go…Again” is another gorgeous example of this. 

While so much of this project goes into bold new directions for Tesfaye, the same divisive and flirtatious personality that defined “Trilogy” takes shape on multiple occasions. “Best Friends” is a great example of this, blending earlier project’s toxic sounds with the swelling synth chords that define this record. Despite “Sacrifice”’s funky guitar loop and atmospheric production, the vocals sound like they could be dropped on “Starboy” and no one would be the wiser. By taking the best parts of his earlier work and laying on bold new instrumental choices, quite a bit of his best work lies on this record.

The only major drawback to “Dawn FM” is that much of the best material is towards the front half of the album. Further into the 16 song long tracklist lies some tracks that don’t hold up with the rest of the project. While the eclectic drums on “I Heard You’re Married” keep things semi-exciting, the bland songwriting and weak guest appearance from Lil Wayne begs for a skip on further listens. Tesfaye sounds a little less adventurous on a handful of other songs toward the end of the album.This, however, is only a slight problem when so many of the highlights are so strong.

Tesfaye has continued to progress as an artist for more than a decade at this point, and to be still progressing and evolving this late into the game is not only necessary, but impressive. “Dawn FM” is an enticing listen for anyone, old fan or not, as it does a wonderful job of taking his previous work and extracting only the best parts, while adding new and bold directions. The dark undertones of the underworld narrative leave listeners skeptical and guessing, while the familiar pop choruses make it impossible to not get up and dance from time to time. 

It’s rare that a mainstream pop album is able to push forward the artform while remaining exciting and appealing, but this recent Weeknd project is just that.