PBR&B: The Weeknd and Frank Ocean

I wish I could say that I came up with “PBR&B” as a term for the indie R&B that has been popping up on Pitchfork, Stereogum, et al. for the past month or two, but I’m not that clever (not by a long shot).  Despite not coming up with the name, I’ve been digging quite a few albums that fall into said sub-genre, namely The Weeknd’s House of Balloons and Frank Ocean’s Nostalgia U.L.T.R.A.

From what I can tell, the main thing that makes PBR&B artists hipster-friendly (versus regular R&B artists like Ne-Yo or Trey Songz) is that at least one song on their album makes extensive use of a familiar, hipster-approved indie rock song. In The Weeknd’s case, this takes the form of two songs that sample Beach House (pre-Teen Dream, no less). “Loft Music,” which is one of the better songs on the album, borrows guitar and Victoria Legrand’s vocals from “Gila,” distorts them, and adds a drum track and vocals. Somehow, it works to great effect.

The Weeknd – Loft Music

Beach House – Gila [Buy]

The other Beach House sample on House of Balloons is “The Party & The After Party,” which samples from “Master of None.” I think it’s a less original sample, an inferior Beach House song (relative to “Gila,” anyway), and the track just sort of meanders along for the last four minutes. Not exactly the best pitch in the world, but it’s worth a listen just to hear the Beach House sample.

The Weeknd – The Party & The After-Party

Beach House – Master of None [Buy]

All in all, the Weeknd album is pretty solid. It is deconstructed, sometimes sparse R&B that is better than anything I’ve heard in the genre in years. My favorite track is the opener “High for This.” While it doesn’t sample any indie rock, the beat during the chorus sounds like the beat from Ginuwine’s “Pony” and the sound from Inception got together and had a baby. Awesome.

The Weeknd – High For This

Frank Ocean’s Nostalgia U.L.T.R.A. is more standard R&B fare, but still an enjoyable album that has its weird moments. For instance, he manages to take an atrocious Coldplay song and make it marginally listenable (“Strawberry Swing”), reworks The Eagles’ “Hotel California” as a song about marrying a teenager (“American Wedding”), and samples Radiohead’s “Optimistic” in an interlude that features two women lamenting the lack of Jodeci in Frank Ocean’s music collection and includes the line “What is a Radiohead anyway?” However, the absolute standout track on the album is “Nature Feels,” in which Frank Ocean takes MGMT’s “Electric Feel” and turns it into a ridiculous outdoor sex romp (first line: “I’ve been meaning to f*** you in the garden”).

Frank Ocean – Nature Feels

MGMT – Electric Feel [Buy]

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16 Responses to PBR&B: The Weeknd and Frank Ocean

  1. David G says:

    I find this genre pretty meh. Modern R&B, Non-R. Kelly Edition is already pretty boring to me. Draking it up with Pitchfork-approved indie rock samples doesn’t really seem to help. “Loft Music”is the best of the bunch. And “Nature Feels” is an undeniable force, for better or worse. “Feeling like Adam felt when he first found this existed” is such a terrible, awkward lyric that it’s almost amazing. Almost.

    • Matt S says:

      I agree – “Trapped in the Closet” this ain’t.

    • Alex H says:

      “And “Nature Feels” is an undeniable force, for better or worse. “Feeling like Adam felt when he first found this existed” is such a terrible, awkward lyric that it’s almost amazing. Almost.”

      I bet you have such an awesome taste and only listen to wordy poets?

  2. Material Lives says:

    This all just makes me want to listen to John Legend.

  3. lol, you slap a really lame label on The Weeknd, theyre original canadian R&B and should probably have nothing to do with the hip/indie scene.. the producers synergy w the vocalist is the main focus and that shit is amazing.. the lyricism is often quite witty but fuck a critic cause its REAL as shit

    • Matt S says:

      Haha….first off, “PBR&B” is probably the best label ever and is in no way lame. Second, I think that any album that samples Beach House twice is de facto indie/hipster, at least a little bit. But anyway, I think we can both agree that House of Balloons is a great album. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing more from The Weeknd.

    • David G says:

      Any relation to Mike Hunt?

  4. dallas114 says:

    How dare you say one beach house song is better than another. IMO they are all brilliant (*particularly* pre teen dream ones)

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