Christmas songs are as big a part of the season as crowded shopping malls and spiked eggnog, but there are only so many times you can hear “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” without wanting to wretch just a little. Here are some suggestions for compiling a Yuletide playlist that perhaps isn’t quite so musty. Much of the music can be purchased or ordered locally at Guestroom Records, Size Records and the like.
Record Store Day (RSD) has become an audiophile’s Christmas since its inception in 2008, celebrating independently owned record stores with exclusive titles and limited-edition releases from everyone from The Beatles to Arcade Fire.
Two leering, damaged R&B mixtapes in and I was nearly certain that
provocative Toronto collective The Weeknd (the brainchild of remarkable
singer Abel Tesfaye) had exhausted its scuzzy-production-and-luxurious
Not so fast!
“Echoes of Silence” continues with the cadre of really sad characters (such as the poor girl working “for your face-lift” on “XO/The Host”) in really sad, sexually exploitive situations spelled out on The Weeknd’s first two mixtapes, without adding many new elements to that signature hazy, narcotized atmosphere of industrial beats and queasy samples. Being less shocking than the initial listening, it’s easier to break these very intricate songs down, both lyrically and structurally, thereby anchoring the listener in what began as a turbulent environment.
If “Glass Table Girls” and “Life of the Party” were the hot singles produced by mixtapes No. 1 and No. 2 (the excellent, unexpected “House of Balloons” and the slightly less-than-above-average, much more expected “Thursday”), then “D.D.” is probably the catchiest, most explosive entry in the entire trilogy.
Unfortunately for Mr. Tesfaye, however, it’s a cover of one of Michael Jackson’s slew of No. 1 hits, 1998’s “Dirty Diana.” The 21-year-old’s version is excellent, but for most of the same reason Jackson’s is. There’s that explosive snarl in his voice when the narrator announces his intent of conquest, and Jennifer Batten’s shredding, melodic guitar is replaced by an eerie chorus of backup “ooh”s and “aah”s, which increase the song’s paranoia at the cost of “Diana”’s original catchiness.
The album grinds to an unexpected stop from its nasty, bumping pace at the end of “XO/The Host,” shifting up into the genuinely disturbing “Initiation,” which sounds like what I imagine taking Adderall and reading freaky Wikipedia entries would be like. The scene feels so detailed and real that it again begs the question if this is some evil fantasy or rooted in some sleazy-underside-to-pop-glamor existence.
“Same Old Song” starts right off all accusatory, just like the bulk of the rest of The Weeknd’s music. What makes this project so psychologically demented (and subsequently compelling) is the narcotic tint to the lyricism, which depicts so many damaged lifestyles and how truly screwed up their mutual dependence (most notably between the pop star and his groupies) is. It’s an impressive testament that Tesfaye can pull a line as trite as “Baby don’t go home / I don’t want to spend tonight alone” on the final track, “Echoes of Silence,” and not only sound completely convincing, but even touching in a sad, desperate sort of way.
It’s an appropriately depressing end to the menacing, sad party that “High for This” began on the “House of Balloons” mixtape. Just don’t listen to all three in a row unless you’re looking for the kind of good time that invites a mess of regret in the morning.