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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.

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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