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Abel Tesfaye writes and performs as The Weeknd.

Thursday The Weeknd (Independent)

This nine-song mixtape was released online on a Thursday, and by that Friday had been downloaded by some 180,000 people. Abel Tesfaye, who writes and performs as the Weeknd, may have had reason to wonder whether he shouldn't have asked a few dollars for his music, instead of giving it away for free.

Tesfaye has come this way before, in March, when his House of Balloons – another online freebie – made the elusive Toronto singer a celebrity in the global underground. The album won a place on the Polaris Prize shortlist in July, a couple of weeks before Tesfaye gave his first public concert.

Thursday is said to be the second instalment in a mixtape trilogy; the last is due this fall. Like House of Balloons, the new collection is deeply atmospheric. The clock is stuck at 4 a.m., the hour when the biggest lies are told and the ugliest truths emerge. The songs are about having gone too far with just about everything, and feeling it all curdle on the inside, though sometimes memory trumps the chilled-out emotional residue. If there's a persona here to match the songs' unified texture and nearly unvarying mood, it's a guy for whom the top-of-mind subjects at the bleakest hour of the night are the highs and lows of using and being used, in every sense.

Tesfaye's weightless, nearly colourless voice is the perfect vehicle for this kind of thing: He's a bleached-out soul singer trapped in a place with no soul. He sounds like he could take that voice anywhere he likes, but he's really not going anywhere. His art as a singer is mostly about spinning high delicate roulades over a relatively static base. A few feints in the direction of Middle Eastern music are not misplaced.

It's hard to point to anything much in the way of a tune on this record, but it's bursting with melody – decorative melody, that spins beautifully around an immobile axis. The voice and the instrumentals string out new lines of counterpoint, layering up and paring down, as the music winds its leisurely way to nowhere. Having figured out how to do one thing really well, Tesfaye does it again and again. There's a cold logic here: The songs are about excess, so why not make the music seethe with an excess of melodic variants? The craft is impressive, especially if you only listen to a song or two. In quantity, I find them monotonous, in tone and method.

As with many artists who put so much effort into endless elaboration, Tesfaye can sound obsessive and self-absorbed, which again makes sense for the character he's representing. His most direct come-on line is: "Don't make me make you fall in love with a nigga like me" – a cat's cradle of narcissistic desire and faux self-loathing.

In The Life of the Party, a grim cabaret stomp, his panting vocals manage to sound aroused and detached at the same time. "I can't feel a damn thing," he sings in The Zone, just before Drake appears for a rap cameo that makes you realize, by its relatively earthy diction, how otherworldly the whole Weeknd sound image is. One exception: The Birds, Part 1, in which the canned drum beats of other tracks give way to big drums beating a bold tattoo, as if striking up a march to the scaffold of the heart. Another: Heaven or Las Vegas, a reggae-flavoured, two-chord vamp that suddenly comes alive when the bass kicks out a robust new rhythm at the end of the verse. If I had to chose, I'd say that was the Vegas part.


Tassili Tinariwen (ANTI-) 3.5 stars

This band of Malian musicians was refused entry to Canada this summer and had to drop out of two folk festivals, a huge loss for both the group and the festivals. Fortunately, Citizenship and Immigration can't stop this superb new recording from reminding us what a great creative ensemble Tinariwen is. The music (mostly written by lead singer and guitarist Ibrahim Ag Alhabib) is about exile in all forms, physical, cultural and emotional. "We share our suffering as we might a glass of tea," he sings in Asuf d Alwa (Longing and Loneliness). Most songs unfold over an unmodulating groove built from hand percussion and porous guitar lines. The clipped, nimble guitar style heard in Tameyawt has no counterpart in Western popular music. TV on the Radio's Kyp Malone contributes to a few tracks, Iswegh Attay sounds like Tinariwen's tribute to Western folk-song form, and Terene taqhim tossam is sung partly in English, but the core of this disc is a kind of blues native only to the north African desert. Robert Everett-Green

Tha Carter IV Lil Wayne (Cash Money/Universal) 3 stars

Like a lot of rappers who started in the nineties, Lil Wayne prefers making cleverly worded threats to listlessly reciting brand names. Worryingly, he's the only superstar left who does, which might explain why the former teen heartthrob seems on his ninth solo album to be going through a mid-life crisis at age 28. As on 2008's Tha Carter III, Wayne mostly takes centre stage on Tha Carter IV to prove again that he can carry a 72-minute album for thugs (John brings a grandiose Rick Ross lyric to a chop shop, then a gun show) and ladies ( So Special, an ode so insincere, it's almost cute) on the strength of his bombastic personality and filthy wit. But while those are largely intact, the trait that made Tha Carter IV so anticipated is missing – Lil Wayne's imagination, which wouldn't let him settle for a lazy pun when a tongue-twisting string of bizarre ones were available. Dave Morris

Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down Ry Cooder (Nonesuch/Warner) 3 stars

"Republicans changed the lock on the heavenly door / keys to the kingdom don't fit no more." On his essential latest album, the folk-music-encyclopedic Ry Cooder shouts elegantly, charismatically and rhythmically from America's ruins, offering 13 songs of dissent set diversely in style and voices. John Lee Hooker for President runs on the boogie-chillin' ticket and proposes a supreme court as a sort of judicial harem. There is much Mexican music: The norteño El Corrido de Jesse James has a gunslinger wishing frontier justice on Wall Street's elite – the same bad guys who figure in the stingy, beery sing-along No Banker Left Behind. A good listen, all told, from a hero we can trust. Brad Wheeler

Wonderful Deep Blue Organ Trio (Origin) 3 stars

The "Wonder" in Wonderful is Stevie, whose tunes provide the Deep Blue crew with its material here, but don't imagine that makes this a Tamla-beat workout. Guitarist Bobby Broom, organist Chris Foreman and drummer Greg Rockingham really crafted the arrangements here, maintaining Wonder's sense of melody and harmony while resetting his songs as swing tunes or jazz waltzes. And while there's plenty of groove to the playing – Broom is as dynamic a rhythm player as he is a soloist – these three never treat the songs as an excuse to show off, keeping the music lean, focused and soulful. J.D. Considine