Column: The Weeknd explores the afterlife with “Dawn FM”

Ayron Rutan, Staff Writer

Coming off possibly the most successful full-length release of 2020 with “After Hours,” Abel Tesfaye – AKA The Weeknd – is back and as good as ever with his brand new LP “Dawn FM.” This new record is groovy, deep, conceptual, and a great listen for anyone who enjoys great vocal performances, infectious grooves, and provocative messages. 

The second album in a self-proclaimed trilogy from Tesfaye, “Dawn FM” expands and intensifies many of the sounds and styles heard on 202’s “After Hours.” The 80’s synthpop and dance influences that were flirted with on tracks like “Blinding Lights” and “Save Your Tears” are laid on thick in “Dawn FM.” Tesfaye’s love of artists like Daft Punk and Depeche Mode really shines through on songs like “Gasoline,” “Sacrifice” and the album’s lead single “Take My Breath.” 

“Dawn FM” is a concept album of sorts. It plays like an adult contemporary radio station, referred to as “103.5 Dawn FM,” being played during a traffic jam in a tunnel. Only the tunnel is an experience that symbolizes purgatory with the light at the end of tunnel being death. One of the most memorable aspects of this concept is the station’s DJ, who is none other than fellow Ontario native and Tesfaye’s real-life neighbor, Jim Carrey. Carrey graces the album with excellent narration, including a provocative spoken word piece about the meaning of life on the album’s outro “Phantom Regret by Jim.” 

The track listing is extremely introspective, almost serving as the “life flashing before your eyes” phenomenon that many believe we experience before we die. Possibly the most introspective and personal track “A Tale By Quincy,” a spoken-word piece by famed music producer Quincy Jones. The interlude features Jones reflecting on his troubled upbringing growing up without a mother and how it affected his relationships with women in the future, which relates nicely to the overall themes of the album. 

These introspective themes of life and what happens when we pass are extremely present on “Gasoline,” where Tesfaye utters the line “It’s 5 a.m./I’m nihilist/I know there’s nothing after this.” In this line, Tesfaye is reflecting on his personal views on the afterlife, challenging the very concept of the record. 

“Dawn FM” also includes strong features from Tyler the Creator and Lil Wayne on the songs “Here We Go… Again” and “I Heard You’re Married,” with Tyler’s verse being the strongest. On “Here We Go… Again,” Tyler and Tesfaye relay a cautionary tale about the dark side of love and how its undeniable beauty makes it nearly impossible to avoid. Tyler’s verse communicates his disdain for the traditional ordinances of love and marriage: “Forever is too long for me/We don’t need the government involved because we like to touch/We don’t need no damn religion tellin’ us that we  in love.” 

The most ambitious project in The Weeknd’s discography in both sound and subject material, “Dawn FM” has a lot to unpack. From the provocative messages, to the complex rhythms and the sprawling track listing, it takes the listener on a journey through purgatory as they look back on the choices they made and struggle to uncover the true meaning of life.

It ultimately tells that the true meaning of life is making the most of your time here, and that the real heaven is on earth. As Carrey recites on “Phantom Regret by Jim,” “Heaven’s not that, it’s this/It’s the depth of this moment, we don’t reach for bliss/God knows life is chaos, but He made one thing true/You gotta unwind your mind, train your soul to align/And dance ’til you find that divine boogaloo/In other words, you gotta be Heaven to see Heaven.”