Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

From the official Facebook page for The Weeknd.
From the official Facebook page for The Weeknd.

Music

The Weeknd's Echoes of Silence: Chilly nocturnes from a night traveller Add to ...

In her poem My Muse, Stevie Smith asks “why does my muse only speak when she is unhappy? / She does not, I only listen when I am unhappy.” Could this be true also for the Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye? Maybe the maker of this and two previous digital albums ( House of Balloons and Thursday) doesn’t waste his happy moods on the work of making music. Certainly his muse speaks in a very dark and even miserable way, at least when Tesfaye is listening.

More Related to this Story

Like its two predecessors, this is a collection of nocturnes, about the nasty things that go down in the hours when the happy world sleeps in peace. These coldly delicate songs describe the exact moments at which desire and disgust become indistinguishable. There are many characters on the album, all of them hungry for something, each of them carrying their isolation like a bag of something filthy that must be discarded but can never be put down.

Echoes of Silence confirms that the truest identity we can ascribe to Tesfaye (who doesn’t give interviews and has only done one public performance) is that he’s a storyteller who wants his night-world tales to get under our skin. His favourite gambit is to wrap his sweet, light tenor around a monologue that aims to manipulate or degrade some woman.

XO and Initiation are addressed to women whose only power is to act as the catalyst for a fantasy that will run them over like a car speeding through the night. The weightless pretty sound of Tesfaye’s voice, slicked and smoothed by Auto-Tune, bobs like a balloon over these sordid sexual tableaux. Is he telling a fiction, or quoting from his diary? The question nags at you, and makes you listen for clues.

In Outside, our anti-hero zeroes in on a woman who’s busted-up about being left by another man. He offers to fill that void, to be the other guy for a night, even to copy his moves: “if you pretend, then girl, I’ll pretend.” In Next, he addresses a stripper who seems impressed to be dancing for the man whose music is playing; his scorn is her tip.

The album opens with a cover of Michael Jackson’s Dirty Diana, a song about a groupie that shows that the wide river of R&B had nasty things floating in it long before Tesfaye came along. Montreal opens with a reminiscence of Serge Gainsbourg’s Laisse tomber les filles, the French text of which means “forget the girls before they drop you.” The pain of not doing so drives Same Old Song, about a former flame who never believed in our man till he became a success, and now dials him up over a beat as solemn as a funeral march.

The resonant synthetic sound-world of Echoes of Silence is very similar to that of Tesfaye’s previous discs. When a real piano enters in the penultimate track, and comes on even more strongly in the closing title song, it feels like an exotic import. In that final song, the clammy bravado of earlier tunes evaporates, the first-person lyric turns fragile, and the guy begs the girl not to leave him alone for the night: “don’t you leave my little life.” Tesfaye, for whom all thrills seem ultimately hollow, hands us the cliché pleasure of seeing this arch-heel at the feet of poetic justice, curled up in the fetal position.

Echoes of Silence can be downloaded for free at the-weeknd.com.

Echoes of Silence

  • The Weeknd
  • Independent


OTHER NEW RELEASES

ROCK

  • If …
  • Bill Ryder-Jones
  • Domino
  • Three and a half stars

This album from the former guitarist of the Coral is titled in Kiplingesque fashion, a supposition but with the added effect of an ellipsis which is left open-ended. Purposefully, obviously, because the mood of the 10 pieces – mostly instrumental, the work is a soundtrack of sorts to the novel If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller, recorded in part with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra – is one of discovery, both physical and emotional. For me, the mid-disc Enlace stirs the most, its serene sense of arrival disrupted with a burst of nervous electric guitar. The album, one suspects, would work as a walking companion. Ryder-Jones, like fellow young Brit composers James Blake and Alex Turner, has a bright mind and new ideas. His possibilities are endless. – Brad Wheeler

GOSPEL/JAZZ

  • Come Sunday
  • Charlie Haden and Hank Jones
  • Universal
  • Three stars

Give them that old-time religion, it’s good enough for them. On their second and final collaboration, the double-bassist Charlie Haden and the late pianist Hank Jones offer radiant humanism, warm elegance and assured duets for any o’clock and any day, but especially Sundays, say 11 a.m., the sweet hour of prayer that Martin Luther King called the “most segregated time in America.” Southern hymns and spirituals (and two Christmas carols for peace) are arranged here simply for the great players’ two instruments – no show-off or swing, though Down by the Riverside does the latter and Haden niftily stretches out on the break of Give Me That Old Time Religion. It’s all soft music, but to be played at full, rich volume – filling halls and hearts both. – Brad Wheeler

ROCK

  • Fallen Empires
  • Snow Patrol
  • Fiction
  • Two and a half stars

The cynical take on this Irish quintet would be that Snow Patrol is to U2 as Coldplay is to Radiohead — pop-savvy and charming, but essentially second-hand. With its lush orchestrations, added vocal sweetening, and dusting of electronica, Fallen Empires tries hard to change that perception. In place of the heroic strumming that powered previous hits, the songs here carry a brooding intensity that neatly suits Gary Lightbody’s mournful tenor, while the detailed, carefully coloured arrangements (mostly by Owen Pallett) add emotional heft to the wistful sentiments of New York and Life-ning, a shift that makes it sound as if the Patrol has traded its U2 worship for a careful study of Elbow. – J.D. Considine

CLASSICAL

  • Claude Debussy: Pour le piano; Estampes; L’Isle joyeuse; Karol Szymanowski: Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor; Sonata in G minor, op. 8
  • Rafal Blechacz, piano
  • Deutsche Grammophon
  • Three stars

The young Polish pianist Rafal Belchacz, who won the International Chopin Competition in 2005, doesn’t overdo the blurred edges we associate with impressionist painters when he plays Debussy. His spunky L’Isle joyeuse isn’t shrouded in mist; it even sounds like a fun place to be. But although Belchacz creates some truly magical colours in Debussy’s Pagode, he gives the piece a rhetorical urgency that questions the very qualities that make Debussy modern. A neutral reading of those pentatonic fragments would be fine: They don’t need to go anywhere. The three baroque-inspired movements of Pour le piano well paired with Szymanowski’s Prelude and Fugue, are clear and a little stern. He lets the contradictions in the music speak for themselves. – Elissa Poole

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeArts

More Related to this Story

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular