Within a year's time, The Weeknd has become one of the forerunners in an emotionally magnified, peculiar thread of R&B with a mixtape trilogy. Late Wednesday night (Dec. 21), The Weeknd gave his rabid fans a tasty Christmas present: his promised third mixtape of 2011, "Echoes of Silence." After a few listens, the follow-up to the mysterious R&B singer's stunning debut, "House of Balloons," and its good-but-not-great sequel, "Thursday," appears to represent a sonic combination of his two previous albums in the best way possible.
While "Balloons" was built around dark, dangerous hooks and subtly crafted beats, "Thursday" was more experimental, pushing its production into more complex territories and tinkering with Abel Tesfaye's song structures. "Echoes of Silence" essentially draws upon the strengths of both albums: tracks like "Next" and "Same Old Song" are straightforward and seductive, while "Initiation" and "Montreal" take detours with the use of vocal distortion and multi-lingual depression. Tesfaye is learning when to take risks and learning when to just let his breathtaking pipes shine, and that balance creates a cohesive 9-track product.
Lyrically, Tesfaye remains destructive, angry and utterly fascinating, still waxing poetic about a lonely, intoxicated party life. However, the Weeknd has begun conveying his emotional devastation without resorting to direct, graphic declarations. "Initiation" describes a terrifying scene of drugs and sex but saves its most salacious parts for the listener's imagination, and "The Fall" ("I ain't scared of the fall/ I've felt the ground before," Tesfaye sings on the hook) is desperate without being disgusting. As much as an artist who has put out three full albums in less than a year can possibly mature, Tesfaye's growth as a lyricist has begun to match his production expertise and wildly talented vocal skills.
"Echoes of Silence" immediately stands as another accomplishment for the Weeknd, a name that will likely be on everyone's lips in 2012. Where Abel Tesfaye goes from here is anyone's guess, but for now, we have another nine songs of harrowing, engrossing R&B. If nothing else, check out "Echoes" for "D.D.," the Weeknd's reinterpretation of Michael Jackson's "Dirty Diana" that does the King of Pop justice.
Which songs on The Weeknd's "Echoes of Silence" are required listening? Here's our Twitter-length track-by-track review.
1. "D.D." - The Weeknd opens strong with a cover of Michael Jackson's classic "Dirty Diana," ultimately impressive and cryptic with the singers' vocal similarities.
2. "Montreal" - The Weeknd teases the art of persuasion to a failed love, opening and closing in the language of his country. Shout out to the Carly Simon line from "You're So Vain:" "You probably think this song is about you."
3. "Outside" - "Baby when I'm finished with you, you won't want to go," The Weeknd croons of a passionate sexin' session.
4. "XO / The Host" - The centerpiece of "Echoes" goes on for a bit too long, but features an sinewy beat and some of Abel's best "Woah Woahhhhh"'s.
5. "Initiation" - The Weeknd dabbles with vocal distortion (think The Knife) while smooth-talking his latest female subject. Monstrous and addictive.
6. "Same Old Song" - "You never thought that I would ever go this far," Tesfaye sneers in the face of someone who doubted him. A well-crafted comedown.
7. "The Fall" - A distant but startlingly personal confession of the Weeknd's fear of returning to an ordinary life after a meteoric rise.
8. "Next" - Stuttering percussion, piano flourishes and Tesfaye trying to make sense of a girl who wants him for his fame.
9. "Echoes of Silence" - The Weeknd's "Someone Like You"? Like "House of Balloons," this tape ends with Tesfaye, lonely and gorgeously rendered.