‘After Hours’ is dense album and attempts to unpack its 14 tracks leaves one feeling like it actually contains 28. Almost every song on this album can be split into two, with noticeable changes in tone. However, a hypnotic mix of clean production, dark themes and The Weeknd’s magnificent voice result in engaging album with high re-listen.
The album’s first two singles were released simultaneously, almost by necessity. ‘Blinding Lights’ is the closest thing the album has to a dance track, however its boppy 80s influenced synths aren’t repeated in the album. In stark contrast, ‘Heartless’ leans heavily on modern trap but its forceful, arrogant, tone isn’t repeated on the album either. These singles aren’t album defining but are rather emotional spikes of the albums story, namely, the exploration of the Weekend’s identity through his own dark lens.
The album’s opening tracks are darker, featuring themes of isolation and pain expressed with heavy bass and moody drones that sweep though songs, ‘Alone Again’ being a standout in this regard. ‘Hardest to Love’ feels oddly out of place with a crystal-like melodic beats, courtesy of ‘Uncut Gems’ composer, Daniel Lopatin. The Weekend featured in the film which no doubt led to this interesting outlier of a track but it feels out of character and more experimental than the rest of the album, lacking the pacing or heavy tone Weeknd fans are familiar with.
The album’s tone ascends through the middle tracks. ‘Escape from LA’ provides a slowly sung pallet cleanser with honestly spoken lyrics taking listeners through The Weeknd’s comprehension of a dishonest city and its surreal lifestyle. The track sets the scene for a epic, confident sounding tracks. ‘Faith’ and ‘In your eyes’ project lighter energy and brilliant high tones both via the beats and the Weeknd’s voice.
However the tone development of the album comes full circle with darker tones, particularly of title track ‘After Hours’ which mimics opening track ‘Alone Again’ but with sharper production and a sense of confidence. This closing confidence, this sense of of acceptance is impressive from an album story telling point of view and as it produces great songs. ‘Repeat after me’ and ‘Until I bleed it out’ are real stand-out tracks with perfectly balances dark and slow beats.
‘After Hours’ is a long album that is a result of The Weeknd’s strong sense of expression. Its messages and sounds are ever-changing and confusing at times but the tone and character of these songs is undeniably defined, and in mainstream music today, unique. The Weeknd himself, whether he sings it or not projects a strong and defined identity. This definition is why ‘After Hours’s is so dense. There is so much to explore thematically and musically particularly the lack of a clear dance beat or familiar rnb which allows for songs to play with trap, 80s influences and song structure.
All of this doesn’t even touch on the extended edition of the album, the extensive video clips or signature character design that came with its release. The enormous care and detailing on this work is obvious and thankfully although The Weeknd has been in the mainstream light for ten years now this album is signalling an exciting musical development for the artist and the genre.
An album made to listen to driving home in the early morning after a night out, not wanting the party to end, but knowing it has to.