Release Date: Apr 28, 2017
Record label: Loma Vista Recordings
Genre is dead, long live genre. Facetious efforts to compartmentalise Sylvan Esso's stylistic pluralism are customary by now, but these contrivances conceal the duo's strident - by-turns radical - simplicity. Their multidimensionality converges on something intrinsically and purely pop. Pop music, after all, is a brash amalgam of tuneful popularities - transfiguring the quixotic into the quotidian - and the incipient chart-hit-as-algorithm fashion implores cramming every aesthetic fad going into a disparate song or record.
T hough Sylvan Esso's eponymous debut was a charming indie-dance diversion from the day job - Amelia Meath in Appalachian a cappella trio Mountain Man, Nick Sanborn in psych-folkers Megafaun and as spectral laptop experimenter Made of Oak - the duo's excellently named second album seems much more sure of its purpose. On it, they gave themselves, Meath says, "full permission to just make bangers", and there are three stellar examples: the driven, pulsing Radio, the magnetic alt-R&B groove of Die Young and, best of all, the vivacious, pounding technopop of Just Dancing, with a classic tears-on-the-dancefloor lyric about trying to drown lost love in the first flush of nightclub lust. There are plenty of less banging, but still lovely, treats elsewhere on this sweet-but-sharp set, too.
It's been two years since the unlikely duo of wordsmith Amelia Meath and beat maker Nick Sanborn released their acclaimed self-titled debut, Sylvan Esso, a finely crafted indie-electronic hybrid to rival all others. Fast-forward to the release of What Now, and Sylvan Esso have produced another, more polished product: the band seem more surefooted, the vocals loftier, the production shinier, the audience (it's sure to attract) broader. It's not an album you can just latch onto and absorb, though; What Now doesn't immediately draw you in like their self-titled debut did.
Theirs is a sound that combines the sparseness of their respective folk backgrounds, Amelia Meath's Mountain Man especially, with the lush bright synths that Nick Sanborn had begun experimenting with when the two met. It's a meeting of minds that, on paper, would never create the kind of music Sylvan Esso creates, yet has brought them critical success. But as fame came knocking at their door, they've started to question just what it's all about.
As they've inched closer to mainstream success, Sylvan Esso's Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn have grown cynical about fame. The duo remains keenly self-aware of their growing influence on their sophomore effort, What Now, calling out the notion of pop music as a commodity within an industry in which they seem most comfortable lurking on the fringe. While the pair's 2014 self-titled debut hinted at notions of pop culture as a crutch, describing television as offering an unhealthy sense of “home” and smartphones providing ersatz companionship, What Now takes that theme a step further.
Undeniably, the respective talents of singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn, the team that is Sylvan Esso, were made for each other. You can just see the eyebrows of Meath raise when she hears the tracks her partner has cooked up, thinking of the paths her seductive elocution can take through their ballooning shapes. Sanborn is a soundscape architect of buildings, roads, and bridges all bubbled out like tires freshly inflated.
"Deceptively simple" encapsulates Sylvan Esso's entire brand. You can plumb the hidden depths of their work, or not; they’re going to have a good time either way. Over 10 tracks on the duo's sophomore album, What Now , Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn unravel familiar themes of physicality and immediacy, building on and complementing, but never managing to overtake, their debut's aggressive minimalism.
The Durham, N.C. electropop duo Sylvan Esso debuted in 2013 with a single called "Hey Mami"--a humid snapshot of catcallers that hooted right along with them. Amelia Meath's hiccupping trill, as light and sugary as corner shop wine, flew over producer Nick Sanborn's languid, slightly arrhythmic beats--a surprising product from members of the Appalachian roots trio Mountain Man (Meath) and the freak-folk jammers Megafaun (Sanborn).
As far as difficult second albums go, Sylvan Esso's sophomore effort sounds anything but, as evidenced by the assured single "Kick Jump Twist." It's a bombastic cut complete with bleeping, burping, and bellowing synths that rise and fall in layers, underpinned by Amelia Meath's rhythmic vocal. In short, it's the kind of pop banger that's likely to satisfyingly answer the anticipation that has built since their last release, and no doubt seduce a number of new fans to their particular blend of indie pop. On the flip side, the opening track of What Now has more in common with their predilection toward a more off-kilter take on pop music.
U S pairing Sylvan Esso released their self-titled debut record in 2014, full of oh-so-quirky electropop seemingly engineered for artisan cafes (unapologetically or inadvertently, it even featured a track called Coffee). Now they've followed it up with a second, slightly meatier effort - though you can likely still imagine its riffs melding nicely with the smell of a freshly brewed AeroPress. Lead single Radio fizzes with Tune-Yards-style energy, as vocalist Amelia Meath - formerly a folk performer - takes a swing at the manufactured music world ("Faking the truth in a new pop song / Don't you wanna sing along?" she asks).
Following three years of bouncing between sold-out shows, Sylvan Esso's second album What Now reckons with the popularity, and ensuing normalisation, of their sound. On opener Sound they strip things back to the fundamentals, Meath singing an austere duet with a glitchy synth. Her voice and the digital instrument imitate and melt into one another in what is a bold and intriguing restatement of the organic/synthetic amalgam at the heart of the whole endeavour.
Tick, tick, tick, snap crackle pop. At first I thought my ears were playing tricks on me; it sounded like Sylvan Esso had sampled the sound of milk pouring over a bowl of Rice Krispies. Then slowly, a fuzzy, ever-warping synth took shape, texture changing with every bar and fading a voice into view. "I was gonna write a song for you / I'm gonna sing it loud," sang the sweet, self-assured voice of Amelia Meath on “Sound,” an instantly comfortable declaration.
The second instalment since Sylvan Esso's self-titled debut, it bristles with absolute transition from both Meath and Sanborn. Markedly the weight of production reaches from every fraction of the record. The resonance of 'Die Young' booms with intent, as Meath tentatively narrates about the austerity imbued into modern life. Songs such as 'Kick Jump Twist' introduce a turn towards more techno-driven beats, intricately woven and layered with varying electronic elements of ecstasy.