Review Summary: Comparisons to other mixtapes aside, "Echoes" is Tesfaye's aggressive finale to a smooth R&B trilogy.Echoes of Silence
--it sounds like the title of a high school poem. Instead, it’s the last installment in a trilogy by The Weeknd, or Abel Tesfaye, an Ethiopian R&B-rapper who has been independently releasing his albums since late 2010. But how does it hold up against his first release, House of Balloons
, which garnered much critical acclaim and was nominated for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize?
Well, it packs a soft--yet impressionable--punch.
features a lot of the same smooth R&B riffs from his previous releases, Tesfaye’s choir-boy vocals are still the envy of the entire Bible Belt, and there’s still some minimal dubstep beats making small wobbles here and there. One major difference this time around, though, is Tesfaye’s attitude. On House of Balloons
, he stumbled around in a hubris-induced drunk, singing lines like, “I can bring my shame . . . I can bring my pain.” This time around he pulls out, “I got show money, baby / I wanna show you how I blow money, baby” on “The Fall.” That’s not to say that he doesn’t have some of the same I’m-a-***-up-star humility as before, but he just sounds more aggressive here, more tenacious.
On the opening track, “D.D.,” Tesfaye takes a stab at the King of Pop. It’s a cover of Michael Jackson--a cover! That’s how he starts off his album, with a cover of the King of Pop. But he imitates Michael with such zeal you have to wonder who is really imitating who. His dubbed-down version of the music carries an epic tour-de-force atmosphere, which continues to ride a wave, cresting and falling on every other track or so. While “Montreal”’s mellow ballad has the rapper showing us his French flow, “Initiation” has a narrator dipping in and out of a garbled voice (think Nine Inch Nails meets R&B) as Tesfaye spits out a story more unsettling than a Scorcese mob movie.
Tesfaye keeps throwing woe-is-me in our faces. Sometimes, it feels worn. It doesn’t have the same impact or effect as when “House of Balloons” bombarded us with a shower of dance and pop in all of its paradoxical despair. But at least he sounds more confident; confident enough for the soft piano closer “Echoes of Silence” where the narrator bluntly confesses how he abuses and uses a woman’s emotions. He can’t imagine why she puts herself through this, because he knows what he’s doing to her.
“I like the thrill,” she says. And there’s the summation of The Weeknd’s trilogy. Whether using or being used, we’re right along there with Tesfaye. Echoes of Silence
doesn’t quite live up to the brash opening of House of Balloons
but it comes awfully close. Like a coalescence of the previous two releases, Echoes
is dangerously within reach of bashing you in the face, but it has enough sense to keep you wanting more.