With the record-shattering hit single, ‘Blinding Lights’ released on the 29th of November 2019, The Weeknd reintroduced himself as the king of synth-pop. Through his hit album ‘After Hours’, he took the world over by storm with hits that dominated the radio and became instant classics. The impressive era lasted two years ending with the smash hit, ‘Save Your Tears’ which was remixed with Ariana Grande in 2021. That same Summer, Abel launched his next era for his follow-up album titled ‘Dawn FM’ with the lead single ‘Take My Breath’. The album debuted in January and has been spawning multiple hit singles. Whereas you might hear the same song or two from an artist constantly played on the radio, The Weeknd is at a point where you can make an entire album purely for the multiple tracks that are played on the radio at the moment from both ‘After Hours’ and ‘Dawn FM’.
After the once-in-a-lifetime success of the ‘After Hours’ era, it was undeniably concerning to see The Weeknd try and replicate the success without coming off as cheap and out of ideas. He and Dua Lipa are undeniably the ones who kickstarted this nostalgic musical trend bringing back the seventies and eighties in full swing on the radio. However, after two years, it seems like the trend might be dying down as artists are struggling to make this retro sound feel fresh and exciting. In fact, it feels like the music industry is in shambles as it tries to find the sound of the new decade. The charts have never been so uninspired and desperate as singles from the past summer are still in the Billboard Top 10 and dull, uninspired pop takes over but still fall short under the top spot which is being held by Disney’s mega-hit, ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’. In enters The Weeknd single-handedly crafting the sound of the 2020s with his second album this decade, ‘Dawn FM’ which is revealed to be the second album in a trilogy, further proving how The Weeknd is here to show the world how to sustain a sound and consistently feel fresh and exciting.
Through the help of numerous music videos, live performances and a stellar sense for visual storytelling, Abel crafts an era that is worth remembering, an era that we will look back on fondly. Nobody is doing this anymore, nobody is promoting albums like this anymore. This only happens once a year. The most recent album eras I can think of are Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Sour‘, Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’ and The Weeknd’s ‘After Hours‘. Here he is replicating that success with just the same amount of energy and enthusiasm for ‘Dawn FM’ which dons a darker, more experimental synth influence than its predecessor. You can definitely tell the difference between an ‘After Hours’ track and a ‘Dawn FM’ track. Abel did a tremendous job differentiating the two projects through not only the different sounds but also the different stylistic choices and visual language. He ditches the vibrant, nostalgic aesthetic of his previous era in favour of a bleak, futuristic and sleek look. Think of the dystopian world from ‘The Matrix’ but add some dance club elements and a heavy dose of existentialism and you have ‘Dawn FM’.
In terms of cohesion and personality, ‘Dawn FM’ is a much stronger body of work than ‘After Hours’ which felt at odds with itself sometimes with the heavy jump from hip hop to full-on synth-pop. In fact, with the exception of ‘Heartless‘, the only singles he released from the album are the full synthy pop songs. The rest of the album is a much different story. Here, however, the excellent lead single ‘Take My Breath‘ is a perfect example of what to expect from the record. Truly intoxicating instrumentals with captivating melodies that will have you singing the song before it’s over. Tracks like ‘How Do I Make You Love Me?’ ,’Out of Time’, ‘Gasoline’ and ‘Less Than Zero‘ have such memorable melodies in large part to Abel’s singing but also to the impeccable production. Abel is one of the few artists who truly interacts with the instrumental. He gives it space to breathe and do what it’s meant to do and then he follows with a smashing chorus that will stick in your head for months. It is one of the many reasons why ‘Take My Breath’ is such a fantastic lead single, I am still not tired of it and I only ever play the extended nearly six-minute version. The build-up and anticipation actually match the pay-off.
Considering how cinematic ‘After Hours’ was with a whopping eight music videos including a short film all connected through a story, there was an anticipation for this album to be just as cinematic and as crazy and honestly, ‘Dawn FM’ feels more cinematic than anything The Weeknd has ever done before. With three connected music videos and an Amazon Prime special, ‘Dawn FM’ reads like a bleak yet stylish nightmare, one that you want to wake up from but find yourself never wanting to leave. Through its consistently present narration by Jim Carrey and on one occasion Quincy Jones, this album focuses more on crafting an experience through its lyricism, interludes and musical aesthetic rather than relying on actual visuals. It’s truly impressive how cohesive this record is on so many levels. I truly feel like I’m in a car floating through the darkest of nights at 2am in the middle of nowhere heading for an unknown void whenever I listen to this album. It’s like something from a ‘Twin Peaks’ episode.
There is really only one aspect that keeps this album from becoming a true masterpiece and that the second half is not as strong as the first. The first eight tracks flow together incredibly well. The flow of an album is so important because it is what keeps you coming back for more. Whenever I listen to this album I always start to lose a bit of interest when the second half starts and it’s because the songs start to mesh together. I’ve listened to the album about four times at this point and I cannot tell you what ‘Starry Eyes’, ‘Is There Someone Else?’ and ‘Don’t Break My Heart’ sound like. The first two have a heart next to them so I know I liked them within the album but they’re definitely not the best of the bunch.
Overall, ‘Dawn FM’ is a surprising improvement on the already fantastic ‘After Hours’ record with tantalizing instrumentals and some truly catchy melodies. If I had to describe this record in one word, it would have to be intoxicating because it lures you in with the promise of a night of dancing, fun and reflection and without realizing it, you fully immerse yourself in the record. You let it take you on a midnight drive through the middle of nowhere. It’s a concept done right, it is a stellar continuation of the foundation ‘After Hours’ built and I am truly excited to see what the final chapter in this trilogy holds for us.
*not including spoken interludes (‘A Tale By Quincy’, ‘Every Angel Is Terrifying’ and ‘Phantom Regret By Jim’)*
1. Take My Breath
2. Less Than Zero
3. How Do I Make You Love Me?
4. Out Of Time
5. Moth To A Flame (feat. Swedish House Mafia) *from ‘Dawn FM’ (Alternate World)*
8. I Heard You’re Married (feat. Lil Wayne)
9. Best Friends
10. Here We Go… Again (feat. Tyler, the Creator)
11. Starry Eyes
12. Is There Someone Else?
13. Dawn FM
14. Don’t Break My Heart
‘Dawn FM’ is available to stream and to own on CD, Vinyl and Cassette.