Modern R&B is, no doubt, in the midst of an experimental renaissance — artists like Frank Ocean, Drake, the-Dream, and even Usher are expanding the genre's sonic playbook by going darker and weirder, incorporating elements of dance-pop, trip-hop, and warped indie rock. Toronto youngster Abel Tesfaye (a/k/a the Weeknd) may not be the most visible member of this new goth-n-b posse, but he's clearly the most assured: over the course of three 2011 blog-approved mixtapes, Tesfaye has created his own ethereal universe — sampling Beach House and Cocteau Twins, covering Michael Jackson, and layering his fallen-angel croon over brooding synths and snares that explode like firecrackers. Each mixtape has its sluggish spots, but Trilogy (which collects every remastered joint, along with three new ones) is simply exhausting as a front-to-back listen, growing a bit monotonous the longer it plays and showing that, for all his melismatic vocal acrobatics, Tesfaye really only runs on one speed.
Nonetheless, Trilogy's highlights are spellbinding: "D.D." is a slinky, sexy take on MJ's underrated "Dirty Diana," nailing all of the trademark Jackson nuances and showcasing a more visceral vocal style, while snares pound like an angry cokehead neighbor and a hi-hat flickers like a dying lightbulb. "Lonely Star" is a production marvel, with tinny snares skittering frantically over an incessant synth-bass throb. And "High for This" remains the quintessential Weeknd jam, with Tesfaye's orgasmic moans hovering over warbled synths and an EQ-shifting beat. Bravado still isn't a good look — like when "Outside" ventures into standard booty-call territory, or on "Til Dawn (Here Comes the Sun)" when Tesfaye tells a prospective lover, "Just wrap your legs around my waist. . . . Don't you worry 'bout us messin' up my sheets." For the Weeknd, sex is a drug — on Trilogy, the two vices are mixed in the same escapist syringe. Even at Tesfaye's most awkward, it's impossible not to be intoxicated.