The Weeknd, “Echoes Of Silence” (self-released)
3.5 out of 5
While starting the year off with a review of a mixtape that actually dropped in 2011 may seem counterintuitive, it certainly isn’t out of line. Toronto R&B artist Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a., The Weeknd was one of the big stories of 2011, with his self-released debut mixtape House Of Balloons shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize and ending up on many critics’ year-end best of lists. Yet Tesfaye never intended Balloons to be a one-off and was, from the get-go, the first of a trilogy of free mixtapes that were to be released before the end of the year. True to his word, the follow-up, Thursday, dropped in August and, just when it looked like the final installment wouldn’t make it, Echoes Of Silence dropped in the final days of 2011.
Like any decent trilogy, it’s difficult to examine Echoes out of context. Thematically and lyrically the tape is closely tied to the blurry-eyed, sex-and-drug ridden narrative of Balloons and Thursday. But, despite being the closer, Echoes is without a doubt the darkest and most depraved chapter in the mix; far more Empire than Jedi. There’s no redemption to be found here and no happy ending: “I ain’t tryin’ to win your heart, and you can’t pay to win my love” Tesfaye sings on “Next”. It would appear the high highs of Balloons are now a distant memory. Even album closer, “Echoes of Silence”, the sparsest and most vulnerable Tesfaye has ever sounded, is dripping with morosity. Accompanied by little more than a piano, he brings it all to an abrupt close: “Don’t you leave my little life…” he sings. For a guy who has ascended the musical ranks faster than any artist in recent memory, Tesfaye sure makes the trip sound isolating.
Aside from Illangelo’s impeccable production and the disorientating (albeit ambitious) vocal modulations of “Initiation”, musically Echoes is the most straightforward dose of R&B to be found over the three mixtapes. And while there’s a sameness running from cover to cover, that’s kind of the point. We’re in bleak territory here, and Echoes is more about the comedown; the quiet hours after the after-party. Thankfully, the sameness is juxtaposed with some of the most ambitious vocal work Tesfaye has put to tape. For a 21-year old with three mixtapes under his belt, Tesfaye is starting to sing with the confidence of a hardened veteran. Opening the record with a cover of Michael Jackson’s Dirty Diana (here titled “D.D”), should have gone horribly wrong but Tesfaye’s delivery on the relatively straightforward cover is virtually unimpeachable.
While there’s nothing so revelatory here to encourage Tesfaye’s detractors to start drinking the kool-aid, there’s no denying the impressive arc that occurs from the opening notes of Balloons to the close of Echoes. That Tesfaye was able to accomplish all of this in the span of 10 months without a record label, marketing, interviews, or a tour, makes the feat all the more impressive. Not bad for an artist who technically has still yet to release his debut LP.
You can download all three mixtapes for free on The Weeknd’s website
Read previous Spin Doctor reviews here