SYLVAN ESSO – “What Now” (Album Review)
Electro pop duo, Sylvan Esso, had their last album end with a slow, out of place, song, with the duo’s singer, Amelia Meath, telling a story of growing up and eventually leaving home, beautifully performed over a simple line of reverb. Though, this left a door open for Sylvan Esso, not ending their debut with a song that went full circle with the rest of the album, but to finish it off in a way that left their audience questioning what would come next.
Right out the gate, we get an idea of What Now is going to give us just from the mixing of Meath’s vocals, it’s distorted, spacey, semi-glitchy, a little experimental, certainly laying down the ground work for how the album is going to sound. Prior to What Now, Sylvan Esso’s production delivered smooth synths with a nice twist on bass and snare drum loops, it was minimally layered but still had depth to it, a real credit to the duo’s producer, Nick Sanborn. Where as now, Sanborn’s production feels more fleshed out, finding new ways in which to try and achieve that simple yet wholesome sound. On What Now, Sanborn centres his production more around deep and distorted, slightly bass infused, synths that only popped up a little bit on their self-titled album, with tracks like Dreamy Bruises and Wolf. Now take a track like Kick Jump Twist, where the hook is based around this wavy and warped synth that brings the rest of it’s surrounding layers together, and same goes for the song, Just Dancing, with it’s fast paced drum loop being equaled out by a slower, oppositional sounding synth, managing to create a really nice dance flavour. Most of the songs’ production get accompanied by unexpected additions that always fit quite snuggly into their respective songs. The bells that chime in quite randomly on Signal, give a slight brightness to the track, and then there’s the acoustic guitar, an instrument that I would not of expected to hear on a Sylvan Esso album, but overall it gives a warmth and innocence to the tracks, Song, The Glow and Rewind.
Amelia Meath’s performance is both energetic and charismatic, strong for the entire album expect for maybe the start of, Just Dancing, but in saying this there is still a power behind her voice really drives home emotion when it needs to. The song Slack Jaw truly gives her a moment to shine, all concentration being on Meath’s voice and what she’s singing about, a song that is powerful in it’s simplicity, showing off her ability in both singing and lyricism. If there’s one thing everyone should understand about Sylvan Esso it’s that there is an incredible amount of depth behind their songs and this is especially true for Meath’s songwriting, deriving from experience, opinions and her own made up stories and scenarios. With tracks like Die Young and Song, both coming off as love songs though both seem to stem from entirely different places within Meath. Die Young tells a story of a person who “had it all planned” to end their life until a lover comes into the mix that dismiss any thoughts about crashing “off a ravine” if they’re new lover won’t be there with them. Where as we look at Song which presents itself as Meath’s own experiences of how a woman should act if she wants to find love. Going over to Meath’s opinions, Radio’s lyrics are about the present state of mainstream radio music, how it has become extremely sexualised, unoriginal and untalented, not to mention formulaic, pointing out how most radio songs go for “3.30” minutes, ironically making the track go for nearly that length.
The North Carolina duo have certainly progressed, with notable differences, in the three years between their two albums. Sanborn did a great job on the production, holding it within the sound of Sylvan Esso whilst also experimenting and keeping it fresh. In saying this there was an empty feeling for a few of the tracks. On Sylvan Esso there were distinct bass-lines that fitted into every song brilliantly, where as here they seemed to be missing from the songs that needed really needed it most. Although, the other aspects of the production have been lifted, being more layered, Sanborn has taken advantage of the opportunities that may not of been available with what they were crafting on their debut. Meath’s writing was incredibly poetic on their first album, which seems to have been toned back a lot on What Now. Not to say that either style of writing is better or worse, but proving she has the ability to write beautiful lyrics no matter how obvious the meanings are behind them; though there are most likely elements to these lyrics I’m not seeing, but that just goes to show the scale of Meath’s writing. As for the harmonies between the two albums, they are on equal fronts in quality, though with the song Signal, What Now takes the cake, with the very high pitched vocals coming from Meath, working incredibly well with the sound of Sylvan Esso.
Considering that Sylvan Esso closed their last album with a question mark and just how much thought goes into their musical decisions, this makes the closing track of What Now a very interesting one. Rewind begins with airy synths and hollow drum loop, but quickly takes a turn when familiar sounding synths from the album’s predecessor come into play; the pattern of it delivered with a very similar sound that their 2014 track, Uncatena, had. To me, Rewind is a nice blend of the their debut and this latest release, and I can’t help but feel as though this closes the loop that the Electropop duo left open at the end of their debut, and if that is the case, then it only leaves one question, what now?
AMNPLIFY – DB
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- Blake Luxford