Download + First Reactions: The Weeknd, ‘Echoes of Silence’

No one ran the DIY scheme of ascension from anonymity to mixtape sensation to heavily coveted, best new R&B artist quite like The Weeknd did this year. He captured our musical imaginations and lit fires in our loins with the likes of “What You Need” and “High For This”; he put down a wrenching album of deceit and lust with Thursday; he blew our minds with the (official) out-of-nowhere sci-fi video for “The Knowing.”

And now, he’s delivered the highly anticipated final installment to the trilogy, just in time to wreck everyone’s Best of ’11 lists (Though, we all knew this was coming before year’s end, right?). Behold: Echoes of Silence.

Download it here, and catch my first reactions to each track after the jump:

01 :: “D.D.”
This year has been all about the 80s, and Mr. Abel’s tribute comes in a mostly different form than what we’ve seen so far: a reworked cover of Michael Jackson’s classic “Dirty Diana.” While listening to The Weeknd’s version, the vocal likeness to MJ is alarming; listening to the original sheds eerie light on how similar the King of Pop’s stylings are to The Weeknd’s. If any Weeknd track has spoken to his potential to dominate the radio waves, this is it. But, the weird echoing womanly whispers, intentionally lo-fi moments in vocals, and the absolutely mean production indicate the aesthetic is more valuable than conformation and commercial appeal. In short, he kills this in the best way.

02 :: “Montreal”
The percussion here is more upbeat than much of the previous Weeknd catalog, and the  feeling from the instrumental is more of a dark night on the beach than the usual dark, faded night in the back of the club. Virtually indecipherable (to me, I don’t speak French…) opening lines give way to a “what if” story, an appeal to a romance fizzled before it reached potential. A well-placed illusion to the object of Thursday’s “Lonely Star” demands that these tapes be listened to together. Such sequential listening will happen soon.(Also, if you speak French, do share the translation to the opening lines in the comments below!)

03 :: “Outside”
One of the things I’ve loved about all of these mixtapes so far is not just the conceptual unity, but how the songs flow together. The result is a like a stream of consciousness, with said consciousness under the influence of whatever mind-altering affect or substance. The end croons of “Montreal” become the xylophonic skeleton for “Outside” (which sounds awfully similar to the Cults track…). An at first pathetic plea to a woman to come to bed that is centered around him playing the role of her missed ex quickly becomes an obviously ruthless scheme. The chorus “‘Cause baby when I’m finished witcha / You won’t wanna go outside” is menacing; the bass line marches heavily with the same determination as our seducer.

04 :: “XO/ The Host”
This track starts with the same sound feel you get when you’re watching that alien invasion movie, and everyone is getting their first glimpse of the full fleet of laser-armed spaceships as they glide indomitably and hold their fire just for dramatic effect. That same synthy sound floats ominously in the background throughout the track, otherwise comprised of a too-tough-to-follow-the-first-time-around story and the sounds of noise-making electronics turning on and off. Another lyrical allusion to Thursday is here, this time for “The Birds Part 2.” The chorus sounds like a repeated call of “Echo”, which might also give depth the whole XO name. The quick transition to “The Host” could be best described as embryonic; The Weeknds vocals suddenly become more upfront and heartfelt: this is the moment of seduction. But things, in typical Weeknd fashion, quickly get twisted. So begins the slow windup for rollercoasting “Initiation”…

05 :: “Initiation”
This track was released some time ago as a single, but its value here in context gives it all sorts of new listenability. The pitch warps as the story bends to accomodate new images and settings, and a beat seemingly meant for midnight speeding sports cars gives the listener (or subject) no room to budge. The claustrophobia is overbearing, and the effect is perfect.

06 :: “Same Old Song”
A compellingly weird guitar riff-turned-bass-line sets the tone for what at first sounds like the second half of this tape. The message here isn’t so unique, and almost seems tied into The Weeknd’s 2011: Lines like “Where were you when I needed you eight months ago?”, “I bet you’d kiss me now, baby”, “You never thought that I would go this far / You said potential could never last this long” give it an unmistakably autobiographic feel (things kind of come full circle here, if one considers how, on House of Ballon‘s “The Party & The After Party”, he sang of women who just wanted his potential). It’s not the most memorable track, but it at least gives other songs some real context, and the emotion delivered along with the line “You’re the same old song” is delightfully raw. Oh yeah, there’s also some ad-libbing a la Kanye’s “Blame Game.” Whatever.

07 :: “The Fall” (prod. by Clams Casino)
So many parts of this song remind me of old 90s rock songs I can’t quite put my finger on–the opening drums, the maniacal, Twisted Metal-esque guitar spurts, etc. It’s a track of dazed celebration: boasts of money and guns, half apologies to Mama, and assurance that “I ain’t scared of the fall” put the song in the present with eyes forward. And while reminders that “I’ve felt the ground before” aren’t too necessary for fans of the past tapes, “The Fall” is a promise to fans that this is only the beginning. Which is great, but at this point I’m more in the mood for the continuation of the tale from the album’s first half than a victory lap.

08 :: “Next”
Damn, who just rolled in the piano? What begins like a ballad is sound joined with a thundering, spacious beat and reckless opener “She pop that pussy on a Monday/ She never falls in love.” Buried gunshots make but one appearance early in the instrumental; The Weeknd’s continued motif of success permeates throughout. The piercing one-on-one, “I know everything” psychology is still here, but The Weeknd is a wiser creature than he was on House of Balloons. This is a somewhat newfound caution rolled into the same old riskiness and pleasure-seeking we’ve grown to love over the past two tapes, a fitting penultimate track for the trilogy’s last installment.

09 :: “Echoes of Silence” 
Only four minutes to go now. The piano is here to stay this time, but buried behind some effects. The bass stomps and snare splashes are absent though. The room has cleared, save for Abel and her. Cognitive dissonance results from a pure, angelic delivery of such lines as

“You knew that talking dirty to me on the phone would get me here / Cause we both wanted to do this, but I could tell that you were scared / Cause you thought that there was more to this, but you knew how this would end / It’s gonna end how you expected, girl you’re such a masochist / And I ask ‘Why?'”

Why? She replies as he might: the thrill. It should’ve been obvious, why each of the past two tapes could be so painful and so begging for indulgence at once: the thrill. Echoes of Silence isn’t just a victory lap, or a cry for that thrill to never leave; it’s the acknowledgement of these entities’ relationship. And indeed, “Echoes” isn’t a huge ending track, but rather a wimper. It’s a fitting low for a year full of highs (and other lows), but it’s a defeated call for things to continue as they’ve gone thus far.

Though, after considering all of the pain and actual love from the past two mixtapes, her response of “The thrill” could be disappointing. After all of this, it’s tough to believe the desired end result was anything short of a profession of love. Then, I’m met with the painful thought that these tapes have been a bow to a love unattainable, a desperate hunt for the next closest thing in physical affection and sedation.