By Michael Yu, Jan. 25, 2022

Coming fresh off the overwhelming success of 2020’s “After Hours” and a controversial snub at the Grammys, all eyes were set on what pop star The Weeknd would release next. The Weeknd’s new project, “Dawn FM,” arrived on Jan. 7 and brings a triumphant album that possesses the shimmery synth pop sound of the ’80s sound into the future.

Guided by the seemingly otherworldly voice of comedian and actor Jim Carrey as the album’s fictional radio host, The Weeknd leads listeners through purgatory and “into the light” with a track list that is both thoughtful and melodic.

The album’s opening track, “Dawn FM” immediately sets a tone for the album with aid from small touches such as the sound of birds chirping which adds to the cinematic feeling of the album. The song ends with the first interlude from Carrey playing the character of the fictional 103.5 Dawn FM radio host along with a radio-like jingle sung by The Weeknd.

The track, “Less than Zero” features as an upbeat pop anthem near the end of the album. The song is a standout on the album and carries a euphoric beat drop full of glistening synths and punchy drums while The Weeknd reflects on past relationships and his mistakes through an infectiously memorable chorus.

The 12th song, “Every Angel is Terrifying” fails to meet its potential due to its disappointing climax. The song features a stunning spoken word section taken from Rainer Maria Rike’s poem “Duino Elegies” and a gradual instrumental buildup that ends up going nowhere as the song is abruptly, and disappointingly, cut off with a fake ad from the 103.5 Dawn FM radio station.

“Gasoline” is a strong track that brings the ‘80s inspired sound to life. The unique beat compliments The Weeknd’s pitched down vocals as he sings about his own nihilism and self-destructive behaviors.

The track, “A Tale by Quincy” features legendary musician Quincy Jones delivering a melancholic spoken word section about his traumatic past and how his experiences affected his own relationships with women and even his own children. This track further exemplifies the album’s themes of reflection and acceptance.

The album’s final song, “Phantom Regret by Jim” features the ethereal voice of Carrey delivering a final spoken word passage as the radio host with background vocals from The Weeknd. The listener clings onto every word spoken by Carrey as he speaks about the importance of letting go of regrets and living in the present.

An underwhelming aspect of the album are its features. Besides the aforementioned appearances by Carrey and Jones, both Tyler the Creator and Lil Wayne deliver subpar guest verses that clash with the sound of the album and struggle to feel necessary.

In many ways, “Dawn FM” feels like a continuation of The Weeknd’s previous album, “After Hours.” The electronic sounds started in songs such as the mega hit “Blinding Lights” and “Save Your Tears” are carried onto “Dawn FM” and refined even further. The uniform sound and seamless transitions throughout the album feel cohesive while ensuring that every song is distinct enough so they don’t get lost in the track list.

On “Dawn FM,” The Weeknd delivers an expertly executed concept album that confronts topics such as mortality, self-reflection and regret in the form of upbeat synth pop. Despite underwhelming features, this album channels the energy, spirit and emotions of the ‘80s and mold it into a form of escape from the purgatory we have all been living in for the past few years.

Graphic courtesy of Sharon Wu. 

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