There are few artists who enjoyed as much success last year as Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. The Weeknd. With support from a large part of the online music community and superstars such as Drake, it was hard to not recognize the Canadian’s success. His first mixtape of 2011 House of Balloons quickly introduced him to many fans, and became one of the year’s most critically acclaimed releases. A few months later, Tesfaye released Thursday. Although this mixtape wasn’t as critically acclaimed as its predecessor, it was still a success, with its popularity skyrocketing with guest spots from Drake. To add to his success, Tesfaye was featured in Drake’s latest album Take Care as both a performer and a producer. To close out his highly successful year, The Weeknd has brought for us the last of his three promised mixtapes, Echoes of Silence.
Let’s be blunt here: Echoes of Silence succeeds exactly where Thursday failed, however it fails where the latter succeeded. This mixtape really works by showing off just how great of a singer Tesfaye is. The problem is that the production that made him great is mostly absent.
The mixtape begins with “D.D.,” a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana.” The two most prominent factors of the record are clearly seen here. The first is the obvious, Tesfaye’s vocals. They have risen to even greater heights, and are even comparable to the vocals of the King of Pop himself. The other factor is the drums, which are highly present throughout the whole album. The stories of love and partying that Tesfaye tells are now clearer than ever with his voice being so prominent in the mix. In particular “XO/The Host” takes its time to build up a storyline, which is pretty clear. Whereas Thursday’s story was lost in the mix of reverb, this works nicely.
Where the mixtape really fails is toward the later tracks. It’s not that the later songs are weaker than the ones in the first half. The real problem is that by that time Tesfaye’s vocals aren’t enough to keep your attention. Once the “wow” factor fades away there’s just not enough to look for.
Despite that, there are a few tracks that shine brightly, like “Same Old Song.” This particular song may not have the most interesting beat, but in comparison it’s the most elaborate. The track has a somewhat haunting aura which is reminiscent of House of Balloons. It mainly works because of the combination with the vocals.
At the end of the day The Weeknd hasn’t made a bad album, just one that doesn’t exactly work in the same way we thought he would. With his last two mixtapes, Tesfaye has kind of shown both of the sides that really made him an artist to watch. The main problem is that he’s showcasing his talents separately, with Thursday showing off his production work and Echoes of Silence focusing on his voice.
Early in 2011 I stated in my review for House of Balloons that I could see The Weeknd hitting the mainstream and that I wanted him to do so. With his recent work and collaborations it seems like he’s very close to superstardom in the States. While I haven’t been a particularly big fan of his last two releases, I will say that his talent still prevails. In short: I stick by my statement regarding his popularity.