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Album Review/Stream: The Weeknd, Echoes of Silence

 

R&B artist The Weeknd has created quite the buzz in 2011 for his unique sound, digital based releases and mainstream endorsements from the likes of Drake and Lady Gaga.

Throughout the year he has released a “trilogy” of mixtapes with the (massively popular) House of Balloons dropping in March, Thursday dropping in August and now Echoes of Silence hitting the interweb in late December. With over 50,000 downloads on the first day of the release, Echoes of Silence is proving to be another strong testament of Weeknds great talent and innovative nature.

One admirable aspect of Weekends music is his knack and ability to set a “mood”. In the past few decades we have seen artists rely heavily on the “single” as a way to push their work. With this trend catching on, few musicians have treated albums as a piece of art–a lot of albums have started to lack continuity. Fortunately, The Weeknd brings back album continuity and crafts tracks that feed off of one another, ultimately telling a story and setting a captivating ambiance from start to finish.

For instance, House of Balloons told the story of a drug fueled youth making harsh decisions but yet, it’s all they know. He told this story through not only lyrical content, but my production effects and crafty composition.

This is certainly no different for his newest release, Echoes of Silence which has that same “story telling”, ambient feel and beautiful production.

Production wise, the piece is what we would expect from the Canadian singer. The way the tracks are pieced together feature the vocals fading in and out over ambient effects and white noise. Although something like this could easily become a novelty, the effects are delivered masterfully and compliment the vocals in each and every track.

When discussing sound/genre on Echoes of Silence, we are actually treated to something a bit new.

The Weeknd has been praised for his unique sound as he combines R&B, hip-hop and bits of ambient rock. In Echoes of Silence, we start to see Weeknds vocals shine a bit more than usual and we really get a glimpse of his impressive vocal prowess.

Another noticeable feature on the album is that his tracks are a bit more “rock-centric” than usual. Weeknd carefully uses rock based fills to effortlessly carry the songs from one track to the next. This smooth build can be seen in the transition between Initiation and Same Old Song, which uses a bass line and subtle snare beat to switch tracks without killing the flow.

The tracks themselves are some of the best we have seen from The Weeknd!

The album starts off with D.D which is a remake of the Michael Jackson classic, Dirty Diana. Not only are the vocals spot on, but the way the track was produced is simply flawless. Remixes and remakes are terribly intricate and tricky to perfect. You really have to bring something new to the table to pull it off–and The Weekdn definitely gives Dirty Diana a new twist and flavor.

The song incorporates a haunting ambient background and a very passionate singing style–which is in contrast from the passive style we have heard from him in the past. He truly hones in on Jackson and the remake serves as a beautiful rendition and a fitting tribute. The song starts off with very light vocals and quickly builds into clamoring drums, belting vocals and a building bass groove. The production and composition are astounding with great build ups and break downs. If were to only choose one song to listen to this album–it’d be this one! Its some of the best we’ve heard out of all three of his albums.

From D.D the album transitions smoothly into Montreal which is a bit more vocal and story based than D.D. In Montreal, we hear the story of heart break and strange love, which are two common themes found in all of The Weeknds work. The instrumentation is rather simple–a few steady snare beats, a piano and vocals–but the over all outcome is hauntingly beautiful.

Although D.D and Montreal are two of my favorite tracks, every track is crafted perfectly. Although the album was intended to be heard to from start to finish–each track can certainly be enjoyed on its own. This in itself speaks volumes for The Weeknds talent. The “stories” that he is known for are also there as he delivers a drama full of heart ache, frustration and betrayl.

This is definitely a great piece to close up 2011.

Stream the album above or  download the track from his website here.

Enjoy.

Frank Ocean- Novacane

Since they both appeared at the same time, it’s natural to compare The Weeknd and Frank Ocean.

Especially since they are both R&B inspired and both sing about similar content–drugs and sex. However, there are nuances that make them far different.

Weeknd seems to fully embrace their high and their deviant behavior–they are aware that it’s a coping mechanism but they enjoy it, and are okay with being the sleazy drug pushers at the party.

Where as Ocean is the cat that seems to be high but doesn’t want to be. He sings songs about all the things he wants to do once the high finally wears off–he mentally takes note of them–he seems to dislike his drug filled ways. His tracks are very introspective and deeper than face value–I dig that.

Novacane is a love story of sorts. He meets a girl at Coachella who came to see the mash up artist Z Trip, while he was there to see Jay Z. The girl is working her way through dental school by doing porn on the side, atleast she’s working, quips Ocean. Her drug of choice is novacane, which in turn numbs Ocean, but not only physically but emotionally too.

“… love me good, love me numb, but when I’m gone love me none.”

The “numbing” of the drugs is, in fact, clever word play.

Not only is he physically numb from the drugs but the song is about the emotional numbing that drugs and societal ideals can have on people.

He takes a hit of novacane from this random girl at Coachella and all of a sudden he is okay that she is a mash up fan who does porn on the side, because hey “at least she’s working”. Completely non-chalant and apathetic.

Through out the track Ocean talks himself into liking the girl, and he justifies his behavior–he is numb to reality and he is numb to his true feelings about her. Drugs and society have made him callous to feeling and even worse–detached to personal interaction.

The intro of the song discusses how every track is auto-tuned with zero emotions, “they are computing all emotions”— he paints this picture of everyone being desensitized. He blames the “numbness” on the girl who introduced him to novacane– the numbness being physical and emotional–but I think it’s deeper than just that.

The girl represents the appeal of sex and becoming famous and after taking a “hit off of fame” Ocean is numb to everything.

He is robotic and only wants more “worldly” things to keep him going, striving for these things has made normalcy near impossible–girls have become conquests rather than people, and life has become stagnant and emotionless.

Ocean is saying that the things society has labeled important, things such as fame, drugs and sex, are taking away from true relationships.

Ocean is subtly urging us to not become numb, and to be alive to feeling and alert to the people that come into our lives.

Not bad, Mr. Ocean, not bad.

Novacane is a simple melody that’s very vocal based, and vanishes abruptly upon the end. The power of the track comes from the small nuances, the quips here and there and it’s lyrical content–a song about drugs– but also one of the most realistic songs about personal interaction on the radio right now.

Check it out, and keep your eye on Frank Ocean for great stuff in the future.

Image Courtesy: Sweet Lyrics