How To Dress Well is an aural relaxant, from the same taxonomic category as the Weeknd. The taxonomy of ethereally awesome. Hit play on the left!
I remember the first time I heard the Weeknd, in early 2011. Some of the tracks off his first mixtape, “House of Balloons,” were groundbreaking – no one had made music like “Wicked Games,” “High For This,” or “The Morning.” Or at least, no one had made similar music that good, and that compelling.
The critical acclaim for “House of Balloons” was off the charts – EVERYONE was talking about this mysterious fellow. MTV said he was the greatest voice since Michael Jackson (my visceral reaction is that this is wrong). Pitchfork loved him. Drake said that the Weeknd was the biggest thing to happen to music in a long time.
Drake may have been close to right. I personally think the biggest thing to happen to music, in terms of sound (not business, which is dramatically different than it’s ever been) is the mass popularization of electronic music, but before the Weeknd, dark, strained, plaintive, intense R&B wasn’t very popular. I mean, R&B was about riding ponies. Genuinely.
I saw the Weeknd open for Florence + The Machine last year at Shoreline. I thought it was a bit of an odd pairing. Tons of people were there primarily for the Weeknd, including me, though I love Florence. To make a short story shorter, he wasn’t particularly good. Part of it wasn’t his fault, as the acoustics at Shoreline don’t seem all that great. Also, it was his first major tour, and he’s probably gotten a lot better since, but my impression at the time was that his studio-produced songs must be heavily touched up, as his natural voice couldn’t sustain the tremors and falsetto that characterize his singing, at least not for long. I’m sure many great artists suffer the same situation – singing one song awesome in a recording booth is way different from singing ten songs in a row in a huge arena.
I just quickly looked up some reviews for the Weeknd’s live performances, and the general sentiment is that he is great. Maybe I should just blame Shoreline; it’s likely that if the Weeknd played an indoor show in a small venue, his sound would fill up the room a lot better.
Anyway, the Weeknd heralded the rise of alternative R&B. Lots of falsetto-focused, yearning, emotive artists quickly rocketed to fame around the same time, including Frank Ocean, How To Dress Well, and perhaps even James Blake. Some of these artists had been around before the Weeknd, but I, at least, was fairly unaware of their existence until the Weeknd introduced me to the genre.
My current favorite artist in that vein is Autre Ne Veut. I was lucky enough to see him for the second time Friday night at the Rickshaw Stop, which is a very small, intimate venue, and Autre Ne Veut straight blew it up. He is absolutely incredible – NEVER miss a chance to see him. To have the opportunity to see him in such a small venue was just a blessing (it was a product of a business experiment by WillCall, a startup that sponsored the show). His singing is on another level, and just emanates greatness. Autre Ne Veut’s opener was a band called Shy Girls, which also makes emo-infused R&B that’s really great.
It’s interesting; we stepped outside for a few minutes and ran into one of the members of Shy Girls, and chatted with him a bit. He told us that they had been booked by WillCall months in advance, though the show had only been marketed for less than a week. He said that WillCall flew out Autre Ne Veut specifically for this show. I suspect that WillCall is gauging whether they have the marketing power and public awareness to put on their own shows. Perhaps they’ll turn into a full-fledged concert production firm.
Anyway, that got me thinking – I want to put on a show! One day I’m going to do this. I promise. Stay tuned.
Back to the music. These new strains of R&B are my favorite genre of music right now. Here’s one from Active Child featuring How To Dress Well, called “Playing House.” Active Child will probably get his own post here one day. He’s great too.
And here’s a new one from Jacques Greene, also featuring How To Dress Well.
Hey, have a happy Sunday.