Fact: Well before Pitchfork was raving about it, I really dug “Initiation”, from The Weeknd’s final 2011 mixtape, Echoes Of Silence. Here’s the proof:
There’s a profoundly alien quality to the song, with its chopped-up beat, haunting and fragile synth stabs, disembodied background vocals, and, most significantly, that deranged vocal lead. The track’s producer, DropxLife, is probably the man behind the unique effect, which modulates Abel Tesfaye’s voice in such a way that it simultaneously oscillates in pace and pitch. It’s totally mad, and fitting with the mood of the piece.
What it really reminds me of, stylistically, is Wamdue Project’s “King of My Castle“. Upon its release in 1997, right at the vanguard of dance-music-as-pop-music (see Now That’s What I Call Music! 44 for further evidence), the song struck me as essentially ego-free and faceless, in spite of it being narrated in the first-person. It’s a perfectly-sculpted composition—witness the occasional chilling flute which pops up now and again—which summons a very particular mental picture. I think of a deserted warehouse, with the anonymous vocalist solemnly intoning his or her (again, like with Tesfaye, gender becomes interchangeable) maxim. And “Initiation” deals in the same palette. It’s remarkable.