The Weeknd - Echoes Of Silence

The release calendar for actual albums slows to a crawl in late December and early January, but the mixtapes never stop. If anything, they come even faster, for reasons I can’t begin to puzzle out. In the past couple of weeks, a ton of artists have cranked out some very good mixtapes. T.I., Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Squadda Bambino, Fabolous, and Raekwon have all cranked out tapes that are, at the very least, worthy. But I still went with the obvious choice here: The trilogy-completing work from the artist who, perhaps more than anyone else, showed the world what a mixtape can do in 2011.

House Of Balloons, the Weeknd’s first mixtape, was the one that grabbed us and plunged us into the group’s shadowy, queasy netherworld; if the Weeknd never do anything that powerful again, they could still have a pretty great career. As with so many other trilogies, the next two entries are devoted to exploring the world that the first one created — chasing ideas through its corners and crevasses, never attempting to replicate the impact of the original. The Beach House and Souxsie And The Banshees samples on House Of Balloons worked musically, but they also sent a message — dorks like us would have to take this group seriously. Echoes Of Silence opens with a very different meta-textual gambit: “D.D.,” a cover of Michael Jackson’s great paranoid sex-jam “Dirty Diana.” I love the shit out of “Dirty Diana,” and I’d rank it above “Beat It” and “Give In To Me” on a list of MJ’s greatest quasi-metal tracks. But even though Abel Tesfaye does a remarkable job channeling Jackson’s falsetto strain, “D.D.” doesn’t really work musically; it’s too blocky and clumsy. It does, however, place the Weeknd in a long lineage of soul-music anger-sex. It makes explicit a connection that’s always been there.

There’s another unexpected referential moment on Echoes Of Silence that speaks volumes: A quick drop from the on-fire Three 6 Mafia knucklehead-rap great Juicy J that, at first glance, doesn’t even come close to fitting with the mixtape’s musical flow. But even though the Weeknd and Juicy J couldn’t sound much more aesthetically different, they’re both making music about the same sort of feeling. They’re pursuing a glazed, malevolent sex-and-drugs oblivion. The only real difference is that the Weeknd is heading there with a sort of pained, guilty inevitability, whereas Juicy goes after it with cackling mirth. And so Juicy’s appearance is another coded signal: This is music about being so drunk and high and horny that nothing even makes sense. It’s music about a scary mental place.

“I ain’t scared of the fall,” Tesfaye sings over and over on “The Fall,” repeating it like a mantra even though he certainly sounds scared. There’s a sweet-little-kid aspect of his voice that’s absolutely crucial to the group’s music; it makes his whole persona both more palatable and more believable. He is, after all, the charming snake finding ways to convince women to make decisions that destroy their lives. On “Initiation,” he goes in stickier and heavier than he ever has, pulling his listener into a reality-warped hedonistic evening as his voice slows down and then speeds up, turning alien as it drifts out of focus. “The Fall,” with its drowning and hiccuping Clams Casino beat, achieves that same effect through music alone. This is the same territory that the Weeknd explored on their last two mixtapes, but it’s still fallow, and they always do fascinating things with it. The music on Echoes Of Silence is undeniably pretty and evocative; it sounded pretty great when I was crashed out on a living room couch, reading a book on Sunday afternoon. But it’s pretty music about about terrible feelings, and that visceral contrast still has plenty of juice.

Download Echoes Of Silence for free here.

Comments (10)
  1. not as good as house of balloons but better than thursday. im still interesting in his first lp

  2. nicely said

  3. two things: I cannot overstate how tired I am of coverage of the Weeknd that treats stuff like “charming snake finding ways to convince women to make decisions that destroy their lives,” like they’re unequivocally cool and positive things. i’m not saying this kind of content makes the weeknd, bad, per se.

    i just think this sexualized violence (or is it violence-ized sex?) against women discussed or alluded to in a lot of these songs is incredibly tricky terrain and it deserves a little more thought and consideration than it’s been getting in most of the press i see abou these guys. this kind of thing happens all the time in the real world, and to use it in a way that is more about style and evoking an atmosphere than anything else seems artistically irresponsible.

    (i realize i’m inviting a tyler to sara quinn type response here)

    second thing: i didn’t know squadda b had a new tape out. is it any good?

    • New Squadda tape, Back $elling Crack, is actually great. Best Green Ova thing since 808s & Dark Grapes II, which was like 5 whole months ago. And I get what you’re saying about how problematic the Weeknd’s whole steez is, but part of what’s interesting about it, to me, is that the character narrating the songs (probably wrong to assume it’s Abel himself) seems to be as helpless as the women he’s attempting to corrupt. Like there’s this sick, sad hedonistic momentum to all of it, like he realizes he’s bringing himself down and can’t stop himself. And I guess that does speak to style and atmosphere more than actual ethics, but I dunno, I think it’s interesting.

      • hey, thanks for responding. i get what you’re saying too. and i don’t want to seem like i’m making a definitive value assessment about it, either. i’m just trying to work through how i feel about it all.

        it’s making me think about the film drive. both it and the weeknd used violent images to largely stylistic ends and had huge critical success in 2011. obviously the kinds of violence are different (psychosexual and mostly implied in the case of the weeknd and very literal and physical in drive), but in many ways i think the two things are of a piece. i guess in their own way, each asks us to consider the consequences of said violence. but each also presents a protagonist and setting so overwhelmingly cool that those questions about consequences get a little blurred.

        i’ve never enjoyed the weeknd much, but i absolutely loved drive. i think there’s something subjective about the sexual nature of the violence in the weeknd’s work that just immediately turns me off. it happens in other music too (i loved xxx, but there are a few lines there that just make my stomach turn, something about fucking a girls face until it caves in…).

        anyway. sorry this is super long. i’m bored at work and really craving the critical stimulation.

      • and also definitely copping the squadda tape.

  4. Dude. I’m so tryna get on this column.

  5. So much to love on this mixtape.

    “The Fall” has to be Clams’ most unique production to date. I wonder how closely he worked with The Weeknd, or if he honestly had THAT beat just laying around. More evidence to why Clams Casino was truly one of the greatest new talents of 2011.

    I loved “Initiation” the moment I heard the youtube leak. I love how his voice sine waves between his screwed voice and an even higher-pitched singing voice. It sent my mind back to March when amrit posted the links to HoB and the Screwed version. I always felt it was essential to hear both versions as Abel’s lyrical content benefits GREATLY from the Screwed aesthetic. I feel like “Initiation” is supposed to be a literal Initiation to listeners that haven’t heard how impacting his Screwed vocals sound.

    And then there is “XO” — the letters that have become the Weeknd’s calling card. More so after Drake dropped the regionally celebrating line: “It’s that North North/ That Up Top/ That OVO & That XO” — such a great line it was echoed on “Initiation”. Not surprisingly that it sequentially follows “XO” on the mixtape.

    “XO” on its own feet has some of the best hedonistic Weeknd lines to date. old thompson’s questioning of violence-ized sex (or is it sexualized violence? ;) is made extremely relevant after hearing lines about wanting to “See you at your best” in regards to being filmed giving blow jobs P.O.V. style or even a live “video feed”. Even within the context of “XO” he veers the discussion into how these girls mothers are crying, a line that is a little odd to be getting tanked to on New Year’s (guilty as charged [The "Blunts to your Face" line is more Near Year's appropriate]). But it is an admittance, foreshadowing for the outro/half-song “The Host”.

    So those are my highlights. “Montreal” is perfect and the 2-song denouement was a smart idea to end an epic Trilogy.

    So what are we left with? Well I had a dream recently, don’t press me for the details, where I was walking through an overcast city and looked up to see the sky was filled with white & grey balloons, big balloons. Say what you will, The Weeknd created a musical world in one year flat. Bravo.

    Now come play at Coachella.

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