Dawn FM: Synths, Syncopation, and Style


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“Dawn FM was mediocre at best.”

That’s what I first said about Abel “The Weekend” Tesfaye’s new album, Dawn FM, after listening through it for the first time. But after a couple of months and a few more listens, Dawn FM has grown on me substantially.

I still hold some of the same views on the album as I did when I first listened to it. The songs are either great and really make me groove, or are songs that I would skip without hesitation. For the couple of times that I made myself listen through the entire album and not just the songs that I liked, I often found myself asking, “what am I even listening to?” or “what even is this song?” With the use of obscure lyrics and strange synths in songs like Every Angel Is Terrifying, I found it increasingly difficult not to skip to the next song the longer I listened to the track.

However, this doesn’t mean that this was a ‘bad’ album. Far from it, actually. For the songs that do really strike the beat, they strike it well and they strike it hard. For some of the songs, I could really feel the beat to my core, and I even danced a little down the street as I listened to them, which is something I almost never do to music in general.

From a musical perspective, most of the songs are relatively simple and fall right in line of what The Weekend would produce. One way that The Weekend strayed away from his typical production style was his experimentation with syncopation throughout the album. In music, syncopation is defined as the displacement of regular accents associated with given metric patterns across a measure. In other words, syncopation is when the beat or beats of a groove fall on the ‘offbeat’ of a measure. It’s when a melody or vocal line feels like it’s slightly ahead or behind the main groove. If you’re still lost, you can listen to a simple example of syncopation in the song Wonderwall by Oasis. Notice how the vocals come in just a beat after the start of the measure. 

Syncopation can be a very powerful musical tool, and, when executed well, can have great results. The Weekend’s experimentation with this tool has certainly paid off. In most of the songs where he uses it, the tool always works to his advantage. A great example of syncopation in Dawn FM can be heard in the songs Take My Breath and Sacrifice.

While he did experiment in this album, The Weekend certainly stayed true to his typical music style that fans like myself have come to love. If we look at some of his popular previous works like After Hours or Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weekend tends to mix an expansive range of synths, simple yet groovy drum and bass licks, and angelic vocals, all of which are present in this album. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Weekend album if it weren’t for Abel Tesfaye’s distinct vocals and harmonies. His use of light and ‘plucky’ countermelody arpeggiating synths add texture and flavor to the songs they’re used in in a way that doesn’t sound soapy or cheesy, which is not an easy task. But given Tesfaye’s experience and talent as a vocalist and composer, I am not surprised that he pulled this off extremely well.

While I would still put After Hours, his previous album, over Dawn FM any day of the week, his newest album does deliver a textured and flavorful musical world that I have come to expect from The Weekend. While there are several skips and, as I mentioned, “what am I listening to” moments, as it stands Dawn FM is a very good album and an excellent addition to The Weekend’s repertoire.