|Slim K - House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence (Chopped and Screwed) (The Weeknd)|
I've had a chance to listen to Slim K's chopped & screwed version of The Weeknd's House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence a few times now, and I have to say that for the most part, I'm not particularly moved by them. I should preface this by saying that outside of a few bands whose music I'm familiar with who've nodded towards chopped & screwed stuff as an influence (some of the witch-house bands and stuff on Tri-Angle), I've had very little exposure to this genre (this probably goes without saying, but I'm also not one to robotrip or indulge in purple drank). Perhaps if I were to use recreational chemicals on a regular basis I would "get" this, but I think--given my substantial investment in The Weeknd's music at this point--that I'm capable of evaluating these remixes as pieces of music without any such enhancements.
The slower tempos really make these albums a chore to get through and while they occasionally reveal interesting variations or details--"Glass Table Girls" initially seems even more menacing, though it quickly loses its momentum; the monologue in "Lonely Star" is voiced by Tesfaye, which adds some interesting dimensions to the song's narrative (a fantasy of a female partner as lonely and empty as himself and thus one that can allow the narrator to enjoy all the things he promises in the chorus by confirming their power as status symbols and objects that facilitate manipulation?), though again its momentum is quickly deflated; "The Zone" comes across as even more of a hymn to anhedonia in this form; and "Heaven or Las Vegas" reveals a surprisingly funky groove in its slowed down form, rather than the martial strut of the album version--they mostly just dull the energy of the song's by robbing Abel Tesfaye's voice of its power. And that, really, is the sin above all else that one needs to avoid in working with this material. Tesfaye is so clearly (and necessarily) the focus here (which, given the impressive production on these three albums, says a lot about his power as a performer) that to blunt his impact (pun fully intended here) is to do irreparable harm to these tracks.
Thursday in particular suffers from the chopped & screwed treatment, as its arrangements--already the loosest in the trilogy by far--do not benefit from being further stretched (I'm also not a fan of its rejigged tracklisting in its remix form). While thematically the slower songs fit with Echoes of Silence's narrative, that album was already full of vocal manipulations (to a far greater degree than either of the other albums in the trilogy), and its relatively more straightforward songcraft gets swamped by these treatments, feeling overstuffed with tricks. House of Balloons comes off the best in this form, in my opinion, though the remixed version of its title track is almost unlistenable. Ultimately, it outstays its welcome in this form and I found myself zoning out long before the end, as with the other two albums. Perhaps that is the point. I imagine that, to borrow a line from Tesfaye, when "time don't exist" after a pharmaceutical interlude, these remixes might do just the trick. As far as music I want to listen to, though, I'd have to say that these remixes miss the mark. At their worst, the sheer formulaic aspect of these remixes makes them reminiscent of remixes on singles by otherwise straightforward rock bands in the 1990s that stuffed a vaguely clubbish beat on top of the original music and perhaps added some effects to the singer's voice.
Actually, the comparison I made to Tri-Angle Records at the start of this post is not entirely inaccurate. In this chopped & screwed form, The Weeknd remind me most of that label's compilation dedicated to Lindsay Lohan, Let Me Shine For You. While that album had its intriguing moments--there were some genuinely thrilling deconstructions of Lohan's music that offered an alluring, alien beauty--the majority of it failed to register. There was clearly atmosphere to spare--just as with Slim K's remixes, though, to be fair, there's plenty of atmosphere to work with in his source material--but precious little of it was attached to anything tangible that would allow that atmosphere to go to work (i.e. the narratives provided by Tesfaye's lyrics). You could argue, I suppose, that the tangible hook in Let Me Shine For You's case was provided by a kind of intertextual cultural nexus between underground electronic music and a troubled actress/pop musician, where the deconstruction of her music mirrored the deconstruction of her public and professional persona via her private actions (which occurred in very public settings), but that didn't really do it for me. If the chopped & screwed versions of the Balloons trilogy emphasized or highlighted the aspects of Tesfaye's narrative that make it so gripping, as it does on its take on "The Zone," this could have been a great success. As it is, I'd have to say it's largely a missed opportunity.