Platinum sales, touring life, and radio presence -- the last of which was due more to guest spots on Drake's "Crew Love" and Wiz Khalifa's "Remember You" than his own singles -- granted Abel Tesfaye a fresh set of fraught experiences and anxieties. As he laments/boasts in the eight-minute slow-motion horror suite that is this album's title track, "I got a brand new place/I think I've seen it twice all year," and visits to his doctor have provided access to new ingredients for his indulgences. Indeed, this is a post-fame album. In "The Town," Tesfaye apologizes to a local conquest for his absence and notes that he can supply her with diamond rings. The following "Adaptation," where he grieves about losing a potential long-term relationship to his career, illustrates his transient lifestyle as a new source for madness. Although the circumstances and locations are different, the antics, along with the mix of emotional trauma and arrogance, are often similar to what Tesfaye depicted throughout his 2011 releases. Lyrics like "I can't stand talking to brand new girls/Only bitches down to fuck when you shower them with ones," also from "Kiss Land," carry a deeper sense of realism. Sonically, the tracks -- produced with a new cast that includes DannyBoyStyles and DaHeala -- are a little cleaner, yet they're all leaden, even when the pace picks up for the Fox the Fox-sampling "Wanderlust" and the overloaded "Belong to the World." The latter owes its industrial judder to Portishead's "Machine Gun" and, like the former, sinks, delivered like an anthem with Tesfaye desperately emoting, "I'm not a fool, I just love that you're dead inside" -- like that's something to be thrilled about. For all its similarities to Tesfaye's past work, along with his confession that "This ain't nothin' to relate to," Kiss Land is more personal, more human, and will draw his fans closer to him. The slightly wider vocal range and additional expressiveness don't hurt his cause. For those who aren't as easily drawn into Tesfaye's world, this will seem roughly as insufferable and as bleakly aimless as the earlier material.
Kiss Land Review
by Andy Kellman