Clearly his best mixtape, but it’s the Weeknd’s own damn fault that no one knows it. I appreciate his wanting to drop three mixtapes in a year, trust me, I do, but you run into the danger of oversaturating yourself, not letting the tunes sink into the listener as they normally would – and worse, because Thursday can be called his sophomore slump (still good, though), a lot of people might have lost faith in Abel Tesfaye’s ability to deliver the goods. Not only all of that, anyone dropping anything in Holiday season should set off alarm bells because 1) people are on vacation and should be doing something more exciting than listening to new releases at home and 2) publications have already sent in their picks for year-end lists – a lot of them would have published them at this time, too.
Anyway, he’s playing with a bigger bag of beats this time around. The only original idea that Thursday brought to the Thanksgiving dinner table of styles that House of Balloons laid down was the acoustic guitar in “The Birds, Pt. 1” and “Rolling Stone.” The title track and closer takes the intimacy of the latter and damn near doubles it. It’s a piano ballad where his impressive voice is finally allowed to move as much as it wants to without being “held back” (so to speak) by the beats. Elsewhere, while Thursday was purely produced by Illangelo, Echoes of Silence gets the benefit of two collaborators: DROPXLIFE co-produces “Initiation,” the heaviest song on the album (more on that later) while cloud rap spearheading Clams Casino hands in “The Fall” – saving an otherwise drab song with a momentum generated from unrelenting handclaps, a nice switch from the future garage-inspired beats everywhere else. Oh, and Juicy J is here – he plays hypeman (“The Weeknd music make ladies’ panties get wet […] spend that shit nigga, it’s Christmas”) and does a high-pitched “Shut the fuck up!” on “Same Old Song” that sounds remarkably like a parrot.
Of course, that’s only a fraction of the songs and the people who want The Weeknd’s brand of contemporary R&B get it. He obviously chooses Michael Jackson’s heaviest and most misogynistic song to cover (“Dirty Diana”). This one’s a lot better because the Weeknd makes it heavier and more misogynistic; an easy feat because I never thought Michael Jackson pulled off those looks successfully, whereas that’s practically the Weeknd’s entire life. While moments in his discography like the Inception-esque “High For This” or the military drumming that powered “The Birds, Pt. 1” might have sounded huge at the time, his cover of “D.D.” blows either out of the water, from the moment the drums enter, punctuating Tesfaye’s vocals (“She said THAT’S OKAY”), turning a sexy song into a violently sexy one (or is it sexually violent?) and proceeding to have the Weeknd’s best climax – bar none. Elsewhere, songs are either crammed with delicious hooks (ie. “Montreal,” “XO,” “Next”) or indelible beats (ie. the pings of “Outside”).
But more impressively, his lyrical well has expanded. On previous mixtapes, if you weren’t a Canadian, you were probably left wondering if there was anything to do in Canada except drugs and women, and if you were Canadian (like I am), you were probably left wondering what clubs you were supposed to go to to get a taste of Tesfaye’s nightlife – no, seriously, shoot me a message if you know. Yeah, he’s still on and on about drugs and women, but he’s doing it in ways we haven’t heard before. The violence that he mere hinted at (ie. “Life at the Party” or the incessant crying on “The Birds, Pt. 2”) is fully-formed on “XO / The Host” and “Initiation” where the question of consent is left disturbingly ambiguous. The former ends with “There’s just something that I / Need for you is to meet my boys / I got a lot of boys / And we can make you right / And if you get too high / Baby, come over here and ride it out” which proceeds to become the hook of the next song, a dizzying array of a pummeling bass and Abel Tesfaye’s voice switching constantly from his normal voice, a higher pitch-shifted one and the low growling of a demon, as if to imitate his entire crew being in the room. On the other side of the album, penultimate “Next” features the pleading “Who you trying to fool? / You just want me ‘cause I’m next” while “Echoes of Silence” ends with lines like “I don’t wanna spend the night alone,” “Don’t leave my little life.” The nightlife where his entire discography exists suddenly doesn’t seem so glamorous anymore – it sounds pathetic.