little kid – might as well with my soul

– featured image courtesy of the artist –

the discography and creative trajectory of the toronto-based trio little kid is all but woven into the fabric of this site’s existence.  the band’s landmark 2013 sophomore full-length river of blood coincided with our first full year of operations, and frontman kenny boothby took the time to discuss both that record and its 2016 follow-up, flowers, in great detail.  with last year’s sun milk and now its successor, might as well with my soul, self-released in the twilight of august, little kid have cemented their legacy as a pillar of this past decade’s vibrant online independent music community, their impressive catalogue providing the soundtrack to hours of existential contemplation.

for the majority of the band’s existence, boothby has been joined by the multi-instrumentalists paul vroom and brodie germain, who primarily staff the rhythm section while also contributing more textural parts, and, in vroom’s case, handle engineering, production, and post-production.  this well-established collaborative ecosystem allows little kid to thrive effortlessly across might as well with my soul; the loose one-two punch of “two invitations” and “love minus seven / no livin'” is at turns both raucous and meandering, steady pulses segueing to the next while supplemental timbres fade in and out of the texture.

boothby’s lyrical and vocal stylings have long been the principal hallmarks of little kid’s aesthetic, and might as well with my soul fares no different.  his wavering tenor is as comfortable against the syncopated drive of “in the red” as it is laid bare on “the only light,” with intricate narratives resonating amidst rather sparse word counts, sentiments punctuated by slight turns of phrase or unexpected confessions.  dialogue is also a strong constant; the aforementioned “two invitations” turns on repetitions of old adages, while “the fifth” is anchored by two successive questions, its soundscape swaying gently in the breeze.

if weighted lyrics are one central tenet of little kid’s core, then the other is, arguably, sprawling compositions not always interested in reaching their final destination, instead content to move laterally and explore nuances in the space presently occupied.  the standout cut “receiver” makes good use of every second in its six-minute run-time, boothby’s lead vocal as pensive as the piano that threads through it, while the penultimate number “your orange and blues” marinates in its ruminative melancholy, quickly becoming one of the year’s best country tunes.  as the final chord of “easy or free” (itself a powerful meditation delivered via mournful slide guitar) dissipates, one feels the weight momentarily lift off of one’s shoulders, and then presses play again.

might as well with my soul is out now.  stream the album in its entirety below.

favours – “in the night”

– featured image courtesy of shelby fenlon –

the toronto quartet favours have turned in a transfixing opening statement to their tenure.  “in the night,” the band’s debut single, arrived late last week with a pastel-hued music video in tow, its swirling slow motion and overall tenor the perfect visual vessel for a striking synth-pop ballad.

an eerie central motif, shared by both guitar and synth, lurks throughout “in the night,” compounded by a co-lead vocal whose simultaneous delivery in unison feels like the same narrative advancing in parallel universe.  along with its unsettling, criterion-inspired visual counterpart, the debut effort from favours is a surreal sonic daydream, one that feels impossibly fresh and familiar at the same time.  experience “in the night” below.

little kid – sun milk

– featured image courtesy of the artist – 

“album of the fortnight” is a (recently revived) bi-weekly feature that digs into a recent release of note.  the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span.  this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  next up: little kid

This site has extolled the virtues of the toronto-based outfit little kid for much of its existence.  while still approaching the band largely from a recording-project perspective, kenny boothby turned in the heavy, complex river of blood in 2013; last summer, after a prolonged, somewhat frustrating period of dormancy, boothby emerged with the sprawling flowers in hand and a solidified line-up in tow.  the stability of having a reliable pair of collaborators at hand is perhaps what led to the comparatively quick arrival of sun milk, little kid’s fourth full-length album, which the band self-released last week.

although just seven songs long, sun milk is a daunting, though thoroughly rewarding, body of work to consume.  one must traverse all the way to its coda before encountering a track that dips below the five-minute mark, and even then, “like a movie” arguably makes up in gravity what it lacks in length.  an exploration of ambient missives and noisy vamps that began on flowers is whittled down on its successor, maybe not to a more precise formula but certainly to one that breathes with the ease of seasoned veterans.

a self-inflicted allergy to electric guitars that afflicted boothby throughout the duration of flowers is immediately vanquished on sun milk; opening number “the fourth” bristles with saturation, as does the album’s centerpiece, “slow death in a warm bed,” ushering in perhaps the flat-out loudest iteration of little kid yet.  for a band that has long relied on outsized dynamic contrast for maximum effect, this embrace of grit only makes tracks like the lo-fi piano ballad “fog” that much more potent, as if an aural equivalent of the prodigal son returned and immediately became the workhorse of the entire operation.

Little Kid Sun Milk Album Artperhaps as a reminder that songs do not solely exist within the vacuum of an album cycle, a recent track-by-track guide for gold flake paint deconstructed the various iterations that many songs on sun milk went through, sometimes over the course of years, before arriving in their presently-recorded form.  this copious vat of detailed information (highly recommended if this album resonates with you) serves to further underscore the immediacy that little kid has operated under: recording in quick, concentrated bursts, ensnaring whatever feels natural at that moment.

as little kid approaches a decade of existence, patience seems to be an overarching theme worthy of ascribing to the project.  the acquisition of both paul vroom and brodie germain as stable members – after years of a rotating cast of characters – has yielded two monumental albums in a row; as the songs on those aforementioned albums grow longer, they unfold with care and determination, and loose, meandering passages are seamlessly tightened up when the moment is right; the inner mechanisms of those aforementioned songs are a wonder to unpack, with arduous three-person synth wranglings, carefully-placed tape hiss, and poignant found sounds threading a lived-in, nostalgic narrative.

little kid is methodical, a songwriting refuge equally capable of volatile bursts of energy and muted, minimal passages of restraint.  with sun milk, the trio has crafted its strongest effort yet, a sprawling structure anchored by its sonic forebears and accented with intimate glimpses of a profound lyricist’s tireless explorations.  step inside and stay awhile.

interview – little kid

– featured image courtesy of the artist –

Little kid doesn’t venture much outside of their hometown, but you’d be quick on the draw to peg their music as insular.  the toronto trio, founded and fronted by kenny boothby, has churned out introspective lo-fi musings sprinkled with religious imagery and philosophical pondering for more than a half-decade now.

last month, little kid released their latest album, flowers, a fuzzed-out, sprawling epic that could easily serve as the band’s definitive piece of work.  we recently caught up with boothby via e-mail for an in-depth conversation about aesthetic choices, the lack of electric guitars on flowers, and new lyrical focuses.  check out the transcript below.

there’s been a three-year gap in between river of blood and flowers, which is a longer break between any of your other projects, i think, by a considerable amount.  was this gestation period intentionally long?

i wouldn’t say it was intentional – to be honest, i was frustrated with myself for how long it took, but it’s just the way it ended up happening.  brodie and i started recording in january of 2015, thinking we’d definitely have it finished by the summer of that same year since it was mostly already written.  

the primary cause of the delay was just the three of us having busy lives – we are all working full-time with very different schedules, so it was sometimes hard to get together.  we started playing more shows around toronto, too, which was great, but it definitely seemed like when we did manage to get together it was more often to rehearse than to record.  i have no regrets, though!  i’m happy with how it turned out, and being able to play live more often definitely helped us figure out what we wanted to do with some of these songs.

a certain lo-fi exterior still remains on the bulk of flowers, but the arrangements underneath feel thicker and more ornate this time around.  was there a specific tone or timbre you sought for this album, and if so, was it consciously different than past works?

the overall sound of the album was fairly deliberate, and i think we started with at least a vague idea of how we wanted to approach this one, but it certainly went through some changes over the course of recording.  i recall having some conversations with brodie early on, and we agreed that we wanted to play around with some more unconventional sounds and recording methods than we had on river of blood.  

the plan was always to have paul play some bass on the album, but brodie and i did a bit of the initial recording ourselves with the plan to have brodie mix it, as he had with river of blood.  but we ended up playing a few shows with paul on bass until it felt like we had a good thing going band-wise, and paul is more experienced with mixing, so we asked him to take over.  

from then on, it was very much a team effort, with us all coming up with ideas for arrangements and recording techniques.

this might be an addendum of sorts to the last question, but a liner note on bandcamp i found rather intriguing was in regards to the lack of electric guitars on this album.  you still manage some absolutely massive walls of sound in their absence, but i’m wondering if that omission was due to exhaustion or if it was posed as a sort of challenge?

it was definitely posed as something of a challenge.  the songs i was writing early on seemed at first to be songs that would lend themselves to the electric guitar, mostly because i was strumming hard and bending a lot of notes – some somewhat non-traditional stuff for a classical guitar, i guess.  

but i liked the way the demos sounded – usually a couple layers of classical guitar, and sometimes some piano or casio keyboard – and for some reason i wanted to just keep playing them on the classical. brodie and i were occasionally having conversations about what we might try with little kid next, and that idea stuck around long enough to become a sort of rule.

i like albums that have some sort of restriction to them – for example, the headphones album that is purely live drums and one or two synthesizer parts, or gillian welch’s time (the revelator)‘s emphasis on first takes.  i love that shit.  it’s why i prefer writing demos on the four-track, too – having some sort of limitation seems to stimulate ingenuity or something.

anyways, it was sometimes challenging to create interesting dynamics without electric guitars.  during live shows, i have typically been playing the classical through a guitar amp and pedals, and we use a lot more distortion for dynamics, but on the record we wanted to stay away from that and try for some lusher, stranger sounds.  

some of the ambient bits came from a day brodie and i spent playing keyboards through guitar pedals, and i spent many an afternoon alone in my room playing around with micro-cassettes and my memory boy (honestly, the best guitar pedal).


biblical images and references were pretty overt on river of blood; they’re still around on flowers but they don’t necessarily feel as explicit or immediate.  was this a conscious shift?

i’d say it was a mix of conscious and unconscious.  i remember having some conversations with friends who don’t have any history with christianity and wondering what it was like for them to listen to the songs i had written that relied a lot on those images and references.  i imagined it could easily become either boring or alienating.  i started thinking about, like, led zeppelin or prog-rock bands who sing about lord of the rings and shit – i don’t necessarily want to listen to people drop semi-obscure references to bodies of work i don’t have any connection with.

obviously, for people who had a similar upbringing, those types of songs can be really meaningful, and i don’t regret spending some time exploring those concepts when they felt very real and important to me.  but, i don’t spend much time with those ideas in my personal life anymore, so it wouldn’t make too much sense to keep writing about them.

but i don’t think it was necessarily something i was consciously thinking about while writing.  it wasn’t like “oh shit, i mentioned jesus again – better cut that line.”  it seemed a little more natural than that.  i just wrote about the things i was thinking a lot about during that time.

little kid songs have never been shy about wandering beyond a length perceived as conventional, and that’s certainly the case on flowers.  furthermore, i’m picking up on ambient addenda, patient vamps that eventually border on monolithic, and lyrical codas that haven’t really factored into your songwriting before, at least not to this degree.  were there any bodies of work that were specifically informative to the creation of this album?

i don’t think the three of us discussed too many direct influences in terms of song structure as we were recording and writing the album, but i know towards the end, as we were sequencing and mixing it, we spent some time talking about how the album was taking shape and what we wanted to accomplish with it.

in hindsight, we had just finished “missionary” and it was one of the most unconventional in terms of its structure, with that long repetitive jam and the noisy bit in the middle, and i think, having gone there with that song, we might have felt a bit more inclined to mess with the other songs and the overall sequencing a bit more.

i remember brodie was saying he felt like the album had started to have a bit of a similar feel to (modest mouse’s) the moon and antarctica – which is alright by me because that’s possibly my favorite album.  for me, i think wilco – in particular yankee hotel foxtrot and a ghost is born – kinda snuck in as a big influence, as well.  believe it or not, i hadn’t heard any wilco records prior to, like, late 2013, but it was pretty mind-blowing for me when i finally heard it.

so i think the whole “pop song with weird shit going on underneath” thing we have going on in some of these songs is definitely influenced by yankee hotel foxtrot, and some of the more seemingly-self-indulgent aspects might come from a ghost is born, as well.  i don’t think the songs themselves resemble wilco songs very much at all, but the approach to recording and production might be similar in some ways.

i do remember we had decided, before we even started recording, that we wanted to make an eight-song album.  i’m not sure why initially – at least in my case, i just like the number eight and the way it can be split up into halves and quarters nicely (although in the end, our album turned out to be five songs on side a and three songs on side b, which makes me mathematically uncomfortable…)

anyways, i know we definitely talked a lot about great eight-song albums like the king of limbs, on the beach, owls.  i don’t think flowers has a whole lot in common – sonically or in terms of the sequencing – with any of those albums, but we’re in good company.

the last time we spoke, little kid was primarily a recording project that occasionally functioned as a live band, but couldn’t really tour or play out all that frequently.  have circumstances changed?  are there any plans to tour in support of flowers?

circumstances have changed a fair bit – we are definitely able to play more often and even occasionally venture out of toronto.  for the last year and a bit, little kid has had a stable lineup of myself, and my two good friends, brodie germain and paul vroom, on drums and bass, respectively.  we all went to high school together and have played music together for years, so it’s a really great time playing with them.  we mostly just play a show in toronto every couple months, but we’ve got to play with some awesome bands this past year.

we are thinking about trying to put together a small tour within canada sometime in the next year, but i don’t know exactly if and when we’ll be able to get that together.  we’re hoping to keep up the momentum of playing together regularly, but we’re planning to play fewer shows and focus on writing and recording a new album right away.  we’re wanting to do a lot more live recording this time, and we have a new practice space that is going to make that a lot more feasible, so we can hopefully get something interesting finished a little faster – we’re hoping sometime next year.

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southern shores – “palo alto”

– featured image courtesy of alyson hardwick –

toronto’s southern shores have been mum for close to four years now, but the duo will break their silence on september 2nd with their debut full-length album, loja.  the project’s eight tracks retain an effortlessly breezy aesthetic informed by a muted, pragmatic approach towards making electronic music, not dissimilar to the body of work offered up by their label-mate, maria usbeck, earlier this summer.

lead single “palo alto” provides an enticing glimpse into the overall affect of loja, its rhythm-centric core propelling a wash of synth pads and vocal samples that bob along like pieces of driftwood caught between the changing tides.  looped up and played on repeat, it becomes a particularly soothing soundtrack for summer’s waning months.  take a listen below.

the weeknd – trilogy

three mixtapes in one year suggests ambition, but the fact that abel tesfaye later remastered and repackaged his as a trilogy is indicative of a carefully crafted plan, one that incidentally helped to reshape a strain of modern r&b.  three years later, that strain may feel as if it’s anything but innovative – partially due to the weeknd’s lackluster debut, kiss land – but the fact remains that house of balloonsthursday, and echoes of silence dictated a large portion of music’s trajectory in 2011.

each mixtape contained nine songs that were always haunting and mournful, yet they simultaneously propped up tesfaye as one of the most talented – and downright virtuosic – singers of this young millennium.  his counter-tenor range frequently gave the illusion of falsetto while rarely actually employing the technique, allowing him to convincingly cover a michael jackson song and sing countless melismatic hooks with ease.  combine that talent with a team of producers just as likely to explore post-punk and indie rock as they were to sample r&b and hip-hop timbres, and it’s no wonder that the three mixtapes found within trilogy hit as hard as they did.

i personally belong to the camp that digested each mixtape individually, in their originally mastered states courtesy of free download sites like datpiff.  but i also subscribe to the accepted theory that all three are companion pieces, so i’m choosing to talk about them under the umbrella of trilogy.  the breakdown will work like this: each mixtape will get its own set of paragraphs and will mostly be discussed in terms of its original presentation, but i’ll allocate a final paragraph or two to touch on the impact of the remastering on trilogy and how each bonus track fits with the rest of the mixtape.  cool?  cool.  let’s dig in.

House of Balloons

house of balloons is the magnum opus of the weeknd’s discography, yet even this mixtape threatens to not withstand the test of time.  as pitchfork rounded up their top one hundred albums of the decade so far earlier this year, house of balloons landed near the middle of the pack, but the site’s stance towards the mixtape seemed almost apologetic, likening the weeknd to a “beta version of some music bot developed in a lab outside of toronto” in comparison to other artists prominent now.  that may very well be true (kiss land seemed to consciously steer away from the definitive gloom of the weeknd), but it shouldn’t detract from the impact house of balloons had when it originally hit.

the weeknd first surfaced in late 2010, posting “what you need,” “the morning,” and “loft music” to youtube anonymously.  all would later appear on house of balloons.  the initial mystery and anonymity of the weeknd was crucial, particularly because it was indicative of both the creation of house of balloons and the subsequent controversy that followed.

the three original tracks posted by the weeknd were produced by a guy named jeremy rose, who details in an interview his relationship with tesfaye and how it went sour.  the two stopped collaborating before the songs were posted, but both rose and tesfaye were credited early on by smaller blogs who covered the music.  however, when larger outlets picked up on the sound, the anonymous allure was slipped into the weeknd’s persona.  after house of balloons dropped in march of 2011, the general public learned of tesfaye’s role as the voice of the weeknd but were led to believe that illangelo and doc mckinney were the producers solely responsible for the haunting aura that permeated house of balloons.

rose’s involvement with the original collection of songs certainly makes him the initial architect of the weeknd’s sound, but not its primary one.  it’s possible, and perhaps even probable, that illangelo and doc mckinney began their tenure with tesfaye as faithful replicators of the sound rose had crafted, but eventually they became innovators.  the version of “the morning” that appears on house of balloons is radically different than rose’s original, sped-up and re-tooled, and “coming down” is the spookiest offering on the mixtape, with its gusts of white noise and its paralyzing bass synth stabs.

then there’s “house of balloons/glass table girls,” the title track and addendum that so accurately encapsulates both the lyrical and musical pillars of the weeknd.  the repurposing of various elements of “happy house” by siouxsie and the banshees – primarily its guitar melody and vocal hook – adds the slightest carefree element, enough to complement tesfaye’s lyrical exoneration of his rampant drug use and poor treatment of women.

but the sunniest disposition ever attached to the weeknd quickly disappears as “house of balloons” dissolves into “glass table girls.”  tesfaye’s cadence of “bring the 707 out” references both the muted bass-snare hit of a roland tr-707 – ostensibly used to create the track – and the type of glass table used to snort cocaine.  and that’s the simple endgame of the weeknd: to get high and have sex with girls.  tesfaye broods in a low register about mixing drugs and tells various anecdotes, effectively blurring the line between fiction and a first-person account.  that’s what was so initially enticing about the weeknd: a grueling and explicit examination of an r&b lifestyle that was simultaneously sought after.

still, the sped-up beach house samples on “loft music” and “the party & the afterparty” (rose handled production on the front half of that track) were crucial points of cross-pollination that helped to push the weeknd’s sound onto an even larger audience.  rose received credit for his work when trilogy was repackaged and released in 2012, although this was probably due to warranted legal complaints on his behalf.  the remastered tracks on the house of balloons portion of trilogy received diligent attention, falling more in line with an audio snob’s expectations.  low-end pulses resonate more, drum triggers feel appropriately crisp, and tesfaye’s vocal echoes are more apparent and contribute more directly to the desired ambiance.  the only glaring omission is on “what you need,” which lacks the aaliyah sample that functions as the original’s calling card.

as is customary of many reissues (trilogy essentially functions as one), a bonus track is tagged at the end of each mixtape.  house of balloons received “twenty eight”; the title refers to its numerical placement in the weeknd’s canon, but rap genius also tells me that it could refer to the approximate number of grams in an ounce.  i’ll take their word for it.  sonically, “twenty eight” is an extreme outlier from the muddy, drug-addled haze of the rest of house of balloons, and doesn’t follow its lyrical pattern, either.  instead, “twenty eight” prefaces the sentiments found throughout thursday, where tesfaye weighs his artistic ambitions against primal instincts and aspirations of fame.  the timbral flip-flopping between stock acoustic piano and post-dub punches is also an indicator of that dilemma, and slightly foreshadows the direction that kiss land would eventually take.

The Weeknd Thursday

tesfaye was afforded the luxuries of time and anonymity while crafting and refining house of balloons, but both of those assets disappeared amidst the sudden media fervor and rampant digestion of his mixtape and the weeknd persona in general.  he’d promised two more mixtapes by the end of 2011, a tall order for any artist, let alone one working under such sudden, intense scrutiny.  the follow-up to house of balloons could have felt rushed or could have been full of throwaways from the first recording sessions; instead, tesfaye and his duo of producers offered up thursday, a haunting continuation that found the weeknd’s persona increasingly defined within the context of his main fixation.

already, tesfaye has succumbed to one of the key pillars of the stereotyped r&b lifestyle, as his philandering is self-referenced indirectly within the first ten minutes of the mixtape.  indeed, “lonely star” immediately finds him offering the world to a nameless girl, ostensibly the same one that appeared in the more incoherent settings of house of balloons.  but the song’s hazy coda finally provides context, reducing the girl’s identity to the one day of the week tesfaye has relegated her to.  “life of the party” qualifies thursday’s place and purpose within the weeknd’s life, but the subsequent title track croons her identity more forcefully into a sense of nothingness, leaving the girl with few human qualities that aren’t sexual.

the turning point of thursday and downfall of the weeknd’s machismo swagger begins in “the zone,” arguably making it the most important track on the mixtape.  after taking a backseat to his romantic proclamations, the weeknd’s rampant codeine abuse circles to the forefront again, this time in a more heartbreaking manner than it did throughout house of balloons.  drake nearly missed the deadline for his feature on “the zone,” but his early co-sign of the weeknd morphed into an important collaboration and provided a more abstract angle into the drug-fueled illicit sexual activities that had begun to litter this new strain of r&b.

prior to “the zone,” the weeknd adopted a decidedly domineering and almost predatory tone, one he swaps out for cautionary tales and a sense of self-pity in both segments of “the birds.”  in a rare instance that straddles the line between social commentary and self-examination, tesfaye realizes the danger his persona poses and advises his object of affection to distance herself from him.  the three remaining tracks on thursday constitute yet another comedown, this time from an intense sexual endeavor as opposed to a drug-induced euphoria.  interestingly, the final song on the mixtape alludes yet again to cocteau twins, this time borrowing the title of their 1990 album heaven or las vegas instead of a sample.

the production throughout thursday is impeccable once again, with the chores falling almost exclusively on illangelo and doc mckinney.  while devoid of the discernible samples that populated house of balloonsthursday still maintains a singular mood that is incredibly emotive, particularly throughout the middle portion of the mixtape.  the bonus track that appears at the end of thursday on trilogy is called “valerie,” again more sonically and conceptually similar to the weeknd’s debut album than any of the material on his mixtapes.  the song’s inclusion at this point in the progression of trilogy is sensible – it’s a ballad sung to a girl the weeknd has wronged – yet the inclusion of a given name in the title suggests that this is someone entirely different than the thursday girl, rendering her identity a complete mystery.

Echoes of Silence

if thursday embodied in any way the stereotypical sophomore slump of a promising new artist, then echoes of silence provided sufficient redemption.  the final installment of the weeknd’s ambitious trilogy of debauchery is unquestionably the most desolate, at times transcending any conventions of r&b to explore more brooding formats like trip hop and post-dubstep.  still, it takes a moment for tesfaye to spiral into that world.

echoes of silence opens with “d.d.,” a retooling of michael jackson’s “dirty diana.”  bypassing his customary sampling of recognizable songs in favor of a straight cover may seem curious at first, but the song’s lyrical content is consistent with the illicit nature of tesfaye’s project and its selection may be a tip of the hat to the mtv critic who once likened tesfaye to the king of pop.  he certainly proves his worth from a vocal standpoint, and illangelo’s atmospheric tendencies collide with militant drums and a surging bass line to make a case for the song’s position as the strongest of the three openers throughout trilogy.

as the haunting french-canadian vocal hook of “montreal” settles in, it becomes clear that echoes of silence is the weeknd’s version of a break-up album.  more accurately, it’s an album that finds tesfaye reconciling with a loss while immediately returning to his tendencies of deception and seduction.  subtle clues like the recycled lyrics from house of balloons point to the cyclical nature of the weeknd’s thought process, but it’s the overtness of “initiation” and “xo/the host” in particular that help to drive home his incessant, never-ending abuse of oxycontin and women.

in his own deluded way, however, the weeknd does manage to finally adopt some semblance of self-awareness and a set of morals.  “next” primarily deals with his rejection of a girl based on a currently fulfilling relationship, although it’s delivered with the arrogant perception that he is desired solely based on his newfound fame and his position as the next prominent face of r&b.  perhaps the most acutely self-aware piece on the mixtape is its title track; “echoes of silence” closes out the entire mixtape trilogy, and although it’s delivered under the lyrical guise of yet another one-night stand, a more important metaphor can be extracted from the song’s plaintive mood.  instead of a back and forth dialogue between the weeknd and a nameless girl, “echoes of silence” functions more as a confessional from the weeknd to his fans, nearly begging them not to forget him as he steps away from his proliferate lifestyle in order to focus on his next project.  tesfaye finally bridges the gap between fiction and feelings, underscoring that what once may have been a fantasy has turned into a less glamorous reality.

echoes of silence is, without question, the most intimate of the weeknd’s three mixtapes, largely due to the small amount of personnel responsible for its creation.  aside from a clams casino co-production credit and juicy j’s spoken word outro on “same old song,” echoes of silence was the byproduct of a close collaboration between tesfaye and illangelo.  while still taking the project’s downtempo nature to entirely new levels on “montreal” and “echoes of silence,” illangelo had the foresight to incorporate gritty, angular distorted guitar lines into the mixtape’s overall aesthetic, perhaps a nod to the stadium-rock aura the weeknd’s live show had begun to take on.  this sensibility stretches into “till dawn (here comes the sun),” the final of the three bonus tracks on trilogy.  it’s the most consistent of the three, finally indicative of both the sonic and lyrical qualities of the mixtape it’s meant to accompany (although there’s a case to be made that the girl is using the weeknd, not the other way around).

so, what does this all mean?  nearly four years ago, a complete unknown came out of the woodwork and began the daunting task of reshaping the aesthetic of r&b, largely through the internet and by word of mouth, albeit very powerful mouths.  2007 is often cited as the year that kanye west changed the course of rap music, steering it away from the gangster lifestyle and towards one of eclecticism and vulnerability; while i hesitate to (and probably will never) put the weeknd on the same artistic level as kanye, 2011 seemed to function similarly, with how to dress well and frank ocean helping to craft modern r&b into an artistic niche as revered by critics as it is by teenagers on tumblr.

however, this new direction deviates from kanye’s rebranding from rap in the sense that it does not appear to be sustainable, at least not in its present trajectory.  it’s been more than two years since channel orange, but that album already found frank ocean pushing past r&b confines and into psychedelia, while tom krell began unabashedly experimenting with pop conventions on his latest effort as how to dress well.  of the big three, the weeknd is the only one who chose to stick almost exclusively with the brooding formula that had garnered him so much acclaim and attention, ultimately resulting in the mixed bag that was kiss land.

part of the lackluster appeal of kiss land can be attributed to tesfaye’s poor in-house retention skills.  the casual discarding of jeremy rose perhaps should have been a red flag to doc mckinney and illangelo, both of whom chose to work on creating the weeknd anyways.  mckinney noticeably disappeared from the project after thursday, leaving illangelo behind to craft echoes of silence by himself.

but illangelo proved himself to be more than capable, producing track after track uninformed and unassisted by anyone else that convincingly belonged to the weeknd’s aesthetic.  despite his long tenure and indispensable role in creating one of pop music’s most enigmatic figures in recent history, illangelo contributed nothing to kiss land.  while details on the split are beyond scarce, it’s become clear that tesfaye’s commitment issues move past the one-night stands in his music and extend to those that have helped shape his professional career.

as he prepped for a handful of cross-country tour dates, the weeknd released “king of the fall,” a standalone single that was his strongest piece of work since trilogy.  it’s indicative of his fame-induced bravado and continued abuse of nearly every substance he can get his hands on, but further on tesfaye begins to make amends and attempts to rebrand himself.  most importantly, he alludes to working with doc mckinney once again, who is to quincy jones as the weeknd is to a dark-skinned michael jackson.

the producers that worked on kiss land wasted their time trying to replicate an aura that had come almost naturally to mckinney and illangelo, and had to do so simply because tesfaye had fallen out with two of the most important instruments of his success.  if this collaboration does indeed come to fruition, it not only shows the personal and professional maturation of tesfaye but the possibility that his artistic integrity may still be salvageable.

alternative r&b, or pbr&b as it’s become known sardonically in some circles, has already become a parody of itself.  countless artists with a halfway decent croon and a computer with fruity loops try to add their brooding two cents to a stagnant conversation, dumbing down and threatening to kill what was once a promising offshoot.  kiss land may have been the biggest perpetrator in this decline, but the weeknd still holds a unique position to save face.  by reconnecting with his original collaborators, time won’t be wasted trying to replicate an outdated sound.  instead, a delayed evolution of the weeknd’s sound may very well occur, and the promising follow-up to trilogy that was initially expected might finally be delivered.  maybe.

listen to a new song from alvvays

already armed with one of the summer’s strongest releases, toronto-based alvvays have added to their rising stock with “underneath us,” a track previously only available on the cassette edition of their self-titled debut.  the band’s united kingdom label, transgressive, is celebrating their tenth anniversary by giving away a free track from their catalogue every day; head over here to snag “underneath us” and click below to listen to the slow-burning shoegaze number.

alvvays – alvvays

– featured image courtesy of the artist –

the marriage of jangle-pop and post-punk has been a fruitful union; the latter sort of embodies the pessimistic outlook so often attributed to millennials while the former crusades against that preconceived notion, placing melodies and hooks in the foreground of an angsty wasteland.  a classic yin and yang of music.  

nestled somewhere in the midst of this movement is alvvays, a toronto quintet whose riffs long for sunny beaches (presumably on the west coast, but maybe not) yet whose lyrics are full of melancholy, self-doubt, and regret, creating somewhat of an apparent identity crisis.  on the band’s self-titled debut, however, they prove time and again that this is a carefully calculated method of expression.

standing at the center of alvvays is molly rankin, her bored demeanor and slightly sullen lyrics often tracing the very riffs she chimes out on guitar.  the album hits hard with the one-two punch of “adult diversion” and “archie, marry me,” its opening number demonstrating how effortlessly rankin and fellow guitarist alec o’hanley are able to weave their guitar parts around one another.  

supported by tongue-in-cheek lyrics with blunt questions that would leave the recipient sputtering, “adult diversion” segues into the mid-tempo, chord-crunching “archie, marry me,” a song that finds rankin enhancing her wry delivery by immediately conceding “you expressed explicitly / your contempt for matrimony” but trivializing the sentiment in the same breath with “you have student loans to pay / you will not risk the alimony.”

amidst the quick wit and humorous jabs lies a sense that rankin is grappling with darker, perhaps more pertinent emotions.  the subtle drum programming and wandering guitar riffs on “ones who love you” precede “next of kin,” a first-person narrative detailing the drowning of a boyfriend.  while the subject matter and its metaphor are morose, rankin manages to maintain some of her light disposition, and the duality of the song is further augmented by an earworm of a guitar riff (probably the album’s best) that crops up between chorus and verse.

the rest of alvvays finds the band trying on various identities for sides, usually with varying results.  the intervallic leaps throughout the chorus of “party police” get a bit repetitive and mundane, but the bare, ominous synth introduction to “dives” showcases a decidedly more delicate side of alvvays, one that is enhanced by the passive triple meter of the drum machine and the simple guitar arpeggios that stumble into the mix alongside rankin’s voice.  

“red planet” closes out the album on the opposite end of the spectrum from “adult diversion,” allowing rankin’s vocals to provide the melody while synthesizers and a bass guitar provide harmonic motion.  for the first time on the record, rankin and her lyrics are put squarely in the spotlight, and she shines as this wonderful summer soundtrack drives off into the sunset.