The Weeknd, comprised solely of rhythm and blues singer Abel Tesfaye and a handful of collaborators, has already released two of the most critically acclaimed mixtapes of 2011. He continues to produce high quality music with his third album, “Echoes of Silence.”
Tesfaye boldly opens the record with a cover of the King of Pop’s classic track, “Dirty Diana,” which he renames “D.D.” Tesfaye’s vocals match Jackson’s surprisingly well and they are a testament to Tesfaye’s incredible talent and versatility.
The Weeknd also makes the song his own by using an intense, industrial production style. Loud, mechanical percussion during the chorus lends a threatening nature to the song and helps the track fit in with the rest of the album. It’s a shadowy and unsettling song that is more complex than most current R&B tracks. Notable throughout the song are Tesfaye’s shouts of “No” and “Ooh,” which sound like he is expelling his deep-seated pain over the cold women in his life. The effect is haunting.
The Weeknd follows “D.D.” with one of his catchiest and most radio-friendly songs, “Montreal.” The song is tidily but modestly produced, allowing Tesfaye’s smooth falsetto and vocal runs to shine on some of the mixtape’s biggest hooks.
Though the album is strong overall, the third track, “Outside,” is a low point. Tesfaye coos a little too much and the lyrics fall into too many R&B clichés to work. It’s a misstep the rest of the album easily makes up for.
It wouldn’t be a Weeknd mixtape without an epic song and the seven minute long “XO/The Host” certainly fills that requirement. The track’s disruptive drumming keeps it interesting, despite its long running time. It starts off with typical R&B lyrics about bottles of Patron and shots of Hennessy but suddenly morphs with its addition of joyless, almost pained vocals. The song reveals the raw emotion that lies beneath the nightclub lifestyle The Weeknd frequently sings about.
“Initiation,” the darkest and most menacing song on the album, features heavy vocal manipulation that slides Tesfaye’s voice between monstrously low pitches and helium highs. The beat smoothly speeds up and slows down amidst the vocals, giving the track a hazy, druggy atmosphere. Its unpredictable nature makes the song sound treacherous and almost vicious. It transforms seductive lyrics into something dangerous, warped and alluring.
Lyrically, “Echoes of Silence” is The Weeknd at his most honest and introspective. The track “Same Old Song” showcases this as its chorus hauntingly repeats, “You never thought that I would ever go this far/ You said potential could never last this long.” The Weeknd knows he is “the next big thing,” but that kind of hype can only be sustained for a short amount of time as the public eagerly jumps to the next trend. The pain of thinking it’s all almost over saturates the song and entire mixtape.
Oddly, The Weeknd ends the somber song with a skit from Juicy J in which he rants about being high and absurdly yells, “It’s Christmas.” It is hard to understand this strange addition to the song. Luckily, the skit only lasts about fifteen seconds so it doesn’t actually detract much from the track as a whole.
One of the major highlights of the mixtape is the penultimate song, “Next.” The song features stellar piano that goes well with The Weeknd’s typical sound of powerful percussion and ambient noise. The song also encompasses most of The Weeknd’s best themes from his other mixtapes without feeling redundant or unnecessary.
The mixtape ends with its title track, which features Tesfaye sounding as if he is on the verge of a breakdown. The song is one of The Weeknd’s simplest, as it only features Tesfaye’s powerful voice, a piano and some ambient sound effects. Tesfaye repeats devastating lines like “Don’t you leave my little life” with a tragedy-laced quiver. The song strips the nightclub lifestyle of its glamour and leaves it seeming hallow and soul-sucking. It is a perfect way for this dark and layered mixtape to end.
“Echoes of Silence” won’t win over any of The Weeknd’s haters, but it is a perfect addition to his already remarkable collection. While this mixtape never hits the exceptional highs of his first official release, “House of Balloons,” it is still able to showcase The Weeknd’s enormous talents and potential.