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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.

Review: Frank Ocean, Thinking About You

Everyone is trying to stand out these days.

Every artist searches for a niche’–something that can make them stand out from the rest. Usually this isn’t a bad thing, but unfortunately artists can get so caught up in their “gimmick” that the focus takes away from their talent.

That being said, it’s very refreshing when an artists just lays down a track that eliminates the fluff–a track where they can just show off their raw skills. No need for crazy auto-tuning or a catch phrase–just performing and showing off their artistic prowess.

I think Frank Oceans new track, Thinking About You, is the perfect combination of talent and simplicity.

Ocean has been taking the industry by storm in the past year and is popping up seemingly everywhere. He has had a guest spot on the Jay-Z and Kanye collaboration, Watch The Throne, he has graced the cover of Fader magazine and will be one of the headlining acts at Voodoo Music Festival in his hometown of New Orleans, LA. His success is definitely well deserved, and his new track certainly tells us why.

In Thinking About You, Ocean is singing to a girl and asking if she thinks of him, because he has been thinking of her–for what seems like forever. Very simple story line, but the emotion held in the track is just so smooth.

The track incorporates a very spacey and mellow back beat–this space is ample room for Ocean to tell a great story about possible unrequited love, heart ache and confusion.

His beautiful falsetto echoes throughout the track “or do you not think so far ahead, because I’ve been thinking that forever” are hauntingly beautiful and really makes the track what it is–simple, raw and powerful.

I dig the track because, as stated before, the focus is on Oceans voice and the storyline. The beat combined with the lyrics create an emotion as well as a story, it’s a wonderful combination that shows off Oceans impressive vocal range. Ocean certainly knows how to use his vocals as an instrument.

This is R&B at it’s finest, but I wouldn’t even label it as R&B. The song combines dashes of soul and pieces of hip hop to just make something that’s beyond labels–just a damn good song.
Check it out!

Frank Ocean, There Will Be Tears

Dear Vocal Effects,

It’s been a while.

You were used well by Peter Frampton in Do You Feel Like I Do a good 30 years ago but ever since then you kind of turned into a novelty–and then T-Pain showed up and all this drama happened, just..take my word for it..you’ve seen better days. You’re washed up.

You’re either over used or used incorrectly.

Hey now..

Oh c’mon, don’t be sad, Vocal Effects.  I actually have some good news!  You were fantastic on the Frank Ocean track There Will Be Tears.

I don’t know what it is, but the muffled electronica intertwined with Mr. Hudson’s crooning, swooning, british flavor is perfection to my ear drums.

Hudson lays down an amazing introduction sampled from Straight No Chaser and then Ocean hits us with his narrative singing and emotional lyrics. The song tells the story of Oceans dead beat and absent dad and his “player” grandfather who ending up leaving him as well–but this time due to death rather than lack of parenting.

Ocean then goes on to sing about how both his friends and society tell him that he shouldn’t cry and be sad–especially when their folks have abandoned them too–but Ocean counteracts their comments with a simple, “yeah, yeah I can.”

The track is short, sweet and powerful.

It contains great content and a perfectly placed sample of Mr. Hudson’s Straight No Chaser. The Hudson/Ocean collaboration is reminiscent of the 2000 Eminem/Dido collaboration where Eminem sampled Dido’s Thank You in his track Stan.

The similarities arise in the unique voices of both Dido and Hudson, as well as how the samples were used–sparsely, effectively but also hauntingly.

And while speaking on the production–the effects in the track are used at all the right places and all the right sections. Not just in There Will Be Tears but throughout Oceans entire album.

So Vocal Effects, take note of how you were used in this piece and..you know.. do that more often. You can also forward this letter to Lyrics, Song Structure and Production.

They could probably take some pointers from this track too.

Sincerely,
Tyler

 

Image Courtesy of Planet Ill.

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

Band to Check Out: The Weeknd

I am trying to find the words to describe the various movements going on in music today–movements such as electronica, low-fi and dubstep.

Words, I can’t find but what I find interesting is that even thought these genres stand tall in their own right, musicians are still out there improving upon them–artists still mix genres and styles to create something unique that they can call their own.

The Weeknd is a toronto based R&B singer who wonderfully incorporates lowfi backtracks and subtle electronics to his songs that give them a very surreal and intimate feeling–traits that you want to find in an R&B track.

His tracks have that home-grown feelings that appeals not only to R&B fans but to indie fans as well. So, if you thought indie music was only for hipsters and folks who drink PBR you were surely mistaken. Indie simply means homegrown, self created–a style that promotes expression and freedom. That being said “underground”, indie music and the internet music community seems to be embracing this indie R&B style. Artists are emerging such as The Weeknd who have this very unique R&B meets electronica feel to them. (See also Frank Ocean and How To Dress Well).

R&B is notorious for being a narrative style art, an art that includes great melodies but also great stories–and Weeknd surely has that on tap.

Weeknds break out mixtape House of Balloons, that was endorsed by musicians such as Drake, was a surefire hit. The group has a knack for creating atmosphere for every track–and that atmosphere seems to be a spaced out, drug induced atmosphere where the singer is in a perpetual spiral and isn’t sure if he hates it or loves it–but he clings to it–he identifies with it.

As you listen to the mix tape you can envision a post-party atmosphere, a hazy environment–the singer wakes up off the floor surrounded by half dead strangers and empty beer bottles–coke residue still on the glass coffee table–he is unsure about his life and seems to regret his choices but it’s all that he knows, so he keeps living this lifestyle.

The mix tape is straight out of a 1980’s Bret Easton Ellis novel. Ellis often wrote about the cocaine trends in the 80’s, he would watch his friends become ghosts at high profile parties and watch them struggle to find themselves the following morning–trying to remember who they were amidst the post party downfall, crawling hung over and crashing from the drugs.

Such a similar atmosphere is found in Weeknds tracks. Songs like Glass Table Girls are clearly about coke, while other tracks are about break ups, mistakes, and using sex and drugs as a means of numbing inner turmoils.

Weeknds song content is raw–it’s real–and it’s powerful.

Even the track names tell a story–with names such as Coming Down and The Party and After Party. The whole mix tape reads like a novel–the singer is telling you of his escapades, his regretful party nights, and his terrifying drug experiences.

What makes their content successful isn’t just the narrative lyrics–but also the instrumental tracks and production styles.  Weekends instrumentals create this “open space” and this space puts the emphasis on the emotive vocals and lyrics. You get this “space” via reverb, echo effects, and soft electronic that’s mixed with traditional r&b sounds. It becomes a surreal and intimate experience that instantly draws you in, whether you like it or not.

One track getting a lot of attention right now is Wicked Games, a song about the singer leaving his girl–and drowning his confusion, sorrow, and guilt with drugs and sex.

Deep down he knows what he did wasn’t right–his girl didn’t do a thing wrong–but he left her, and he will dabble in drugs and promiscuity to keep himself from thinking of the wrongs he has committed. At one point in the song he is begging a stripper  to tell him that she loves him–even if she doesn’t–he just needs her to justify his behavior..his flawed thought process.

He is singing that he needs “off of this”off of this life, off of this downward spiral, but in the same breath, he needs all of it too. He needs all of it to keep his sanity, and to keep his mind from veering off into the reality that he keeps hidden by the drug abuse and sex.

So, that being said, he accepts the high of this lifestyle fully and remains in this state in order to escape his flawed reality.

..told you it was intense.

Listening to a track by The Weeknd  you learn more about the singer, and listening to the mix tape is like reading a novel–you get to know the singer through and through, and you actually start to feel for the guy–even if he seems to enjoy the downward spiral.

So enjoy the current R&B trend. Check out The Weeknds Wicked Games or download the free mix tape from their website here.

It can get intense, but it’s surely something fresh and something that you can’t help but appreciate.

Image courtesy of The Weeknd

Beyonce- 1+1

 

The track is very minimalistic with a picked guitar melody and a mellow back beat that beautifully accentuates Beyonce’s powerful voice.

The song seems to be an update on Sam Cookes 1960’s hit, Wonderful World. The track retains the line “I don’t know much about algebra” but the song seems to have a more up to date feel that doesn’t necessarily send the same message of liberation and playfulness that was so much felt in the 1960’s.

Cooke was telling his girl, “I know if you love me too/ what a wonderful world it could be.”

However, Beyonce’s message is a bit different.

She is saying she doesn’t know much about fighting but she will fight for her loved one, she doesn’t know much about guns but she has been shot by him also.

Throughout the song she references war, death, and apocalypse and is more so left hoping that love can still do the same things that Cooke promised it could.

The words “make love to me” echo throughout the track mixing a hint of vulnerability  and confidence with such a bold remark.

The electric guitar solo towards the end has also been compared to the likes of a Prince ballad, since the songs melodramatic piano and whimpering vocals closely resemble something only Prince could turn out.

The song is written and produced wonderfully–Beyonce’s vocals being the main focus of the song and the lyrics, whether deliberately or not, mimic the Cooke classic and serve as a beautiful update to the piece.

Great song that will surely be an instant classic.

Image Source: You Heard It New