“This song is for all those people that [are] putting all that crazy stuff
on their Christmas list. You don’t even use half of the stuff you’ve got.”
The irony of the words we use lies in the manner in which their meanings can change depending on your interpretation of them and how they are used in a sentence. The above quote is the first thing the Listener hears when BJ The Chicago Kid’s latest project, A Soulful Christmas EP, begins playing. At first listen, it is easy to take BJ’s words at face value and perceive him to mean that this latest project is a short and sweet gift to his fans for them to enjoy during the holidays. However, with more thought, it could also be that the statement is referring to BJ’s development and progression as an artist in recent years, and his future plans of harnessing his growth to deliver great music. Either meaning you apply to the quote turns out to be an accurate assessment, though, as the kid from the windy city fulfills both of these meanings to the best of his abilities on his holiday-themed EP. Continue reading →
Weee’re baaack! This week in music:
Iconic vocalist Whitney Houston passed away on Saturday, February 11th at the age of 48. CNN reported that the famed singer was found dead by her bodyguard in her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Houston’s passing came as a complete shock to the world, and comes on the heels of the deaths of African-American music icons Etta James and Don Cornelius. Houston sold over 170 million albums and singles over the span of her career, and touched the lives of countless fans around the world. With her passing on the eve of the Grammy Awards, it was expected that the show would be altered in order to honor the fallen legend.
The 54th Annual Grammy Awards took place on Sunday, February 12 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The awards were hosted by LL Cool J, marking the show’s first official host in seven years. The show featured performances from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Coldplay, Alicia Keys, Chris Brown, and Jennifer Hudson. The biggest winners of the night included Adele (6)., Foo Fighters (5), and Kanye West (4). Tributes were given for fallen icons Whitney Houston and Etta James, both of whom had passed away within the last month.
Rhythm and blues sensation The Weeknd has done it again. For the third time in 2011, singer Abel Tesfaye has released a nine track album for free download on the internet. The newest of these albums, titled Echoes Of Silence, is the final installment of the Canadian artist’s “Balloon Trilogy” (Echoes Of Silence was preceded by the projects House Of Balloons and Thursday). The series has made Tesfaye one of the year’s most acclaimed newcomers, and Echoes will only serve to add to his massive buzz. Echoes Of Silence is filled with content that fans of The Weeknd have grown to expect from him. Tales of drug use, alcohol abuse, sexual escapades, and relationships with women are a few of the themes which Tesfaye chooses to focus his songwriting prowess on. The writer shows that he has not lost a step after crafting two solid projects this year prior to this one. On his last project (Thursday), Tesfaye used his abilities to pen a strong storyline reminiscent of a concept album. The first album of the trilogy (House Of Balloons) showcased Tesfaye’s ability to write memorable, monumental music en route to crafting one of the year’s most impacting records. Echoes showcases the sweet spot which Tesfaye has found with his writing, as he is able to find a balance between the two ends of the spectrum. The writing which made the songs on Balloons so memorable was not up to par on Thursday. On the flipside, Thursday was able to convey a story arc in a better fashion than Balloons did. Tesfaye begins to put it all together on Echoes, creating a few loose story arcs while crafting monumental records that fans will remember.
These vividly detailed stories are told over the simultaneously lush and lo-fi backdrops provided by producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo. The cold keys, pounding 808s and kick drums, strong synths, and reverberations form a very atmospheric sound in which the listener can become engulfed. These productions are a part of a sound which has become extremely popular this year in R&B (largely due to the success and acclaim of House Of Balloons), and provide the perfect framing for the intricate images painted by Tesfaye’s high-pitched, sultry vocals. While Echoes sees the production team creating the atmospheric instrumentals they have become known for, there are some obvious additions to the instrumentation and influences in comparison to the first two projects. McKinney and Illangelo find a way to stretch their sound without compromising it, a tremendous feat in itself. For instance, the opener “D.D.” sees Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” flipped as the production team covers the record while making it their own. Tracks like “Outside” and “Same Old Song” show influence from what seem to be oriental music genres, with the strong use of gongs and other traditionally Asian instruments. The album’s single “Initiation” is a testament to the engineering of the album, as Tesfaye’s altered vocals constantly fluctuate from high pitches to low ones creating a very interesting and distinct sound for the track. “Montreal” is reminiscent of the mellow production heard on a Sade album, while “The Fall” gives producer Clams Casino a chance to put his own twist onto The Weeknd’s sound. Echoes shows new found expansion and variety within the patented sound, which gives fans hope for more innovative work in the future.
Simply put, Echoes Of Silence exemplifies growth. Tesfaye’s writing is maturing and coming together quite nicely, as he is able to tell stories using monumental, memorable records. McKinney and Illangelo have expanded their patented sound, a feat which should not be overlooked. While Tesfaye is the main attraction, the production is just as important to the success of The Weeknd. Any properly executed innovation should be welcomed with open arms, as it increases the ability to keep the music fresh (nobody wants to hear redundant music). While the project doesn’t finish as strongly as it starts, the overall body of work is tremendous and none of these records are bad or skip worthy. Now that the trilogy is over, it will be interesting to see what the next move is for this talented team of people. Whatever that move is, the world is sure to be anticipating it. And rightfully so.
Pros:+Tesfaye’s songwriting skills are coming together nicely +A new take on a similar sound +Collaboration with outside entities (Clams Casino) +Favorites: “D.D.”, “Outside”, “Initiation”, and “Same Old Song”
Lows: –Although none of the songs are bad, the project doesn’t finish as strong as it starts –Dislikes: N/A