Though No ‘House Of Balloons,’ The Weeknd’s New Mixtape Still Entertains
Published: Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Producing one album per year has become something of a rarity amongst current musicians. While bands of the 1960s would often release multiple albums each year, today's artists often spend so many months touring that they have less time to create new music. These conventions, however, haven't held back Abel Tesfaye, professionally known as "The Weeknd," who, after bursting onto the music scene with the independently released House of Balloons last March, released his third mixtape of 2011 just in time for the new year.
Despite the short periods of time between his three releases (his second mixtape, Thursday, dropped in August), Tesfaye has managed to create three collections with distinct sounds. While each work is unmistakably Tesfaye's—his vacant, atmospheric beats and strained voice are remarkably his own—each manages to incorporate an amount of progression one would expect other artists to accomplish with much more time. Yet Tesfaye is only 21, and is undoubtedly one of the most innovative rappers to emerge in recent years.
While House of Balloons was met with widespread critical acclaim, Thursday was in some regards a disappointing second release. Although its tracks are mostly as good as those of its predecessor, much of the initial shock of House of Balloons had worn off by the time Thursday came out. Tesfaye's lyrics capture a dark and grimy mood, and Thursday convinced many that their newness was critical to their relevancy.
With Echoes of Silence, however, Tesfaye makes it clear that he is not attempting to imitate anything he has done in the past. This is a release that considers past themes in Tesfaye's work, but incorporates a wide array of musical elements, ranging from the pop sensibilities of "Montreal," which is one of the album's standouts, to the existential vacancy of the title track.
"XO/The Host" is a track representative of all of The Weeknd's past works, filled with sex, drugs, and the darkest parties one can imagine. "Evictions on your door, blame it on the weed, blame it on the booze / Blame it on the night life, light's passin' you, yeah / Just don't blame it on me, that you wanna come and party." This track, however, indicates one of the primary ways in which this release differs from previous mixtapes. While all of the elements of this dark lifestyle are still present, Tesfaye is embracing them like never before. He accepts no blame for whatever happens to those who delve into his realm, merely issuing warnings and using his own existence and stories as examples of what his world can do to others.
"The Fall," which is another of the album's strongest tracks, brings us right back into the emptiness of the singer's lifestyle. "My blunt full of B.C. / My cup full of Texas / Flowing on that OVO jet / Yeah I said it." This track is successful because it highlights Tesfaye's command of atmosphere in his music. The beat is composed of a slow drum rhythm, dull electronic sounds, and a wood block banging, all echoing while Tesfaye produces slurred vocals. The sense of the vacancy in the lyrics is matched perfectly by the emptiness of the backing track.
House of Balloons is full of self-aware descriptions of sex, drugs, and partying, and Thursday indicates an awareness of the depression of the narrative presence in these stories. In Echoes of Silence, the narrative voice remains, but appears with more confidence, as though it is embracing the decrepitude of which it sings. Although Tesfaye may never be able to create an album filled with the shock of House of Balloons, it is clear that he isn't attempting to do so, and is continuing to explore his abilities as an artist. While Echoes of Silence is not as strong of a collection as House of Balloons, it is nonetheless a strong effort and well worth checking out.
Editor's note: This mixtape, along with all other referenced works by The Weeknd, are available for free download from the artist's website.