The Weeknd Tops 2020’s “After Hours” with Surreal Synthpop Throwback Dawn FM

Farooz Khan-Trunnell, Contributing Writer

Rating: 5/5 Falcons

In the span of a decade, Toronto singer Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye has gone from a homeless, unknown talent to a global pop sensation. In an industry where sales quantity and musical quality rarely go hand in hand, The Weeknd is an enigma, with sonic and aesthetic creativities that seemingly never run dry. This imagination certainly shined on his 2020 concept album, After Hours, a project which saw the arrival of the 1980s throwback to the pop zeitgeist. After Hours may have seemed like quite the feat, but to Tesfaye, the only direction to go is up, as his long awaited sequel to After Hours, Dawn FM, has taken the retro sensibilities of its predecessor and created an even more fantastical, transcendent experience; it is the Weeknd’s artistry at its peak.

Dropping on January 9th, 2022, this album is arguably the most explicitly retrospective The Weeknd has been so far, with a colorful synth pop sound filled to the brim with glistening production and danceable rhythms. For years now, Tesfaye has had a foot in the past, but Dawn FM is a full frontal dive into a different time period, and the risk pays off. The record feels nostalgic, yet futuristic, with the sprawling disco flavor of “Take My Breath,” the low register vocals that call back to the 80s from “Gasoline,” and the funky, Michael Jackson-inspired singing and instrumentation of “Sacrifices.” This retro style could come off as derivative, but the sound of Dawn FM proves itself to be as futuristic as it is historic, with its detailed and vibrant synth palette, which feels cutting edge despite its aged aural flavor. Suffice to say, Tesfaye knows how to make a throwback record.

This album is truly as existential as it is entertaining.

Equally compelling as its sound is Dawn FM’s surreal yet potent concept, the album  represents a radio station for the soul awaiting heaven in purgatory, as so eloquently described by unlikely host Jim Carrey. Tesfaye’s ability to make not just an album, but a world, that elevates its music into feeling almost supernatural, is a quite underrated skill in today’s playlist-driven music industry. From this left-field concept, Dawn FM begins to feel like a therapist to the restless spirit. The outro, “Phantom Regrets By Jim” reflects on the need to let go of the past, and the slightly off-putting cover, depicting Tesfaye as an old man, hints at the idea of reminiscing on your life, regretfully and nostalgically. What makes The Weeknd special in the world of pop is his talent of delivering complex ideas and concepts through music normally seen as surface-level. This album is truly as existential as it is entertaining.

Taking a step back, and looking at Dawn FM as a whole, the album is certainly a highlight in The Weeknd’s catalogue and bodes well for 2022 musically. On a track-to-track basis, the record is remarkably consistent, with a wide range of emotions and sounds within its robust 52 minute runtime, nearly all of which bring something unique and dynamic to Dawn FM. It’s safe to say that this LP will dictate the coming year for many a listener. The album peers back at both musical and personal history that is sure to make a lasting mark on the future.