Welcome to the O Music Awards guest writer series, a place where we hand the proverbial reins over to qualified writers/musicians/etc and let them share their thoughts about music, technology and more. Today’s guest blogger is Russ Marshalek of Flavorpill. The subject? O Music Awards nominee The Weeknd’s third mixtape, Echoes of Silence.
He delivered as he said he would: At basically the very last minute before the end of fall, the enigmatic damaged R&B producer The Weeknd released Echoes of Silence, the third in his “Balloon Trilogy” of 2011 mixtapes — mixtapes in name and method of distribution only as these three records, House of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes of Silence introduce and execute upon a musical vision more fully realized than anything else this year.
In the course of these three works, we’ve seen Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye (henceforth referred to as Weeknd) move from surprise hit first album with blinding critical acclaim to difficult and alienating second album to masterstroke artistic masterpiece third album: a veritable full career’s worth for a younger artist achieved in less time than it takes Lil Wayne to hop on a remix. Legions of Weeknd fans eagerly awaited the record’s release as fall became winter, and finally, on 12/21, after #echoesofsilence began to take over the Internet, the album and its accompanying artwork were released for streaming and download at the-weeknd.com.
And, oh, what an album Echoes of Silence is. There are those who would argue it is a “return to form” after Thursday (despite the hilarious/impressive nature of there even being a “form” to “return” to in the span of a few months), a bleak (even for The Weeknd), ambient set of tracks focusing on dub, centerpieced by the two-part “The Birds.” It’s more fitting, though, to absorb Echoes of Silence the way Weeknd intended it: the final movement in a suite, the final act in a play, one that couldn’t come without the terror, loss and drugs (lots and lots of drugs) that came before.
EoS opens with “D.D.”, a fractured take on Michael Jackson’s classic “Dirty Diana” that surpasses the original in every way. With production from Weeknd collaborator Illangelo doing a brilliant Nine Inch Nails impression, “D.D.”, despite not being Weeknd’s words, sets the scene for the tour he’s about to take us on: the house of parties and prostitutes from House of Balloons, the house in which he kept his concubine, illicit substances and even more illicit acts on Thursday, and now a house that holds his epically crestfallen comedown, a veritable McKittrick Hotel of fractured, narcotic emotion.
EoS is sweeping, glorious heighs and lows of pounding hearts and cold sweats, at times all on the same song, as on the Clams Casino-produced “The Fall” or “XO/The Host,” the most frightening composition we’ve yet gotten from Weeknd. In it, Weeknd offers shelter and comfort (and, of course, drugs) to a woman who has lost her job and her place to live after spending all her money on drugs… but it comes with a price, named later on “Initiation”: “I got a test for you… baby you can have it all/there’s just something I need from you/is to meet my boys.”
The gangbang sequence that takes place within these songs is like Bret Easton Ellis penning the infamous “ass to ass” scene from Requiem For A Dream, leaving enough to the imagination that inside those echoes of silence all you can hear is screaming. This movement in particular, “XO/The Host” into “The Initiation,” shows how much we’ve watched Weeknd grow as a songwriter before our very eyes/keyboards: formerly operating entirely in slurs and curses, now choosing to work in a linguistic color palette far more subtle and effective.
When the final, plaintive refrain of the album’s final, title track plays out, we as a listener have come full circle and are sitting alone, broken and f*cked up on Weeknd’s bedroom floor in the dark, wondering what’s next.
So, indeed: What’s next, Weeknd? When’s the next hit?
By Russ Marshalek