Sylvan Esso – What Now Review 


The North Carolina electronic duo of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn make up Sylvan Esso. After a generally positive response to their ethereal and subtle self titled debut, dubbed ‘Folktronica’ in 2014, they have released their attempt at the difficult second album. What Now was released at the end of last month and the duo have already teased a bolder and pop/dance influenced sound with singles such as Radio released last year. It looks to be a braver sound that the duo are embarking on and they have a lot more to say too. The problem is everyone thinks they’re being bold by their second album so is their substance to this beneath the surface?

 ‘Die Young’ is a more controlled sound with an element of depth though no less infectious. Here they have you hanging off bold and opaque electronica with light whirring sounds in between. It is a way of emboldening their sound whilst also slowing things down a bit. As they sound progresses, charged 80’s percussion slams in the background as the component parts of the song gradually to come together for a satisfying and rich conclusion. Excellently produced and arranged and expertly delivered. ‘Radio’ is a pulsating piece of Pop music with a bouncing bass beat that forms the foundation for a shimmering array of electronica. Amelia Meath balances the task of controlling a driving Pop song with the same consistent vocals albeit with a few shots of power to guide the song through sheers drops and shifts in sound. The lyrics tell of falling for the desperate and flawed media as everyone does whatever they can for a piece of fame and where those who do can even end up with unbridled power in one way or another. ‘Just Dancing’ opens with popping beats and deliberately contrary tuned vocals. As the verse transitions to the chorus, the instrumentation falls away,  whilst at the second time of asking, the song bursts into a purposeful phase. The synths become more prominent, the vocals more powerful. The song comes to fruition in an unusual way, but it’s worth the wait for even more electric Pop.

‘Kick Jump Twist’ opts for a light and sparked out set of popping beats with Meath’s naive vocals for a soft and simply nice piece of music. This is distrurbed during the chorus as the sound is dropped into a grinding, distorted set of drops and from there the song’s purpose is to serve these bold changes of sound that are just as stark once they end as thy are when they begin. Shimmering electronica opens ‘Signals’ before a dull beat acts as a base from which Meath can deploy her vocals. The spliced effect rhythm and the assertive electronic instrumentation command the songs appeal here, though it did seem to lose its way half way to its conclusion, before driving the song home to a well executed finish. ‘Rewind’ closes the album and has similar features and it is here that these ideas may have been applied a little too heavily across the album. Those monotone beats arrive when you expect them too and whilst this song in isolation is another good track, in the course of an album that has already had similar and better moments; you end up hoping that rearrange their instrumentation somewhat. It is a sound that works though and for the most part is well produced, delivered and infectious. 

Sylvan Esso – What Now = 8/10

Owen Riddle 

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