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WPGM Recommends: Sylvan Esso – What Now (Album Review)

Electro-Pop duo Sylvan Esso burst onto the scene back in 2013 with debut single “Hey Mami”, which provided the perfect introduction to their unusual yet awkwardly charming mix of Electro-Pop, Folk and Dub beats.

With the single combining lead singer Amelia Meath’s delicately sweet vocals layered over producer Nick Sanborn’s idle yet engaging beats; it provided an interesting take on generic Electro Pop by crossing the paths of each members strengths to produce something unearthly distinct from standard 120 monotonous beats.

Although at times, these tempo constraints clawed at the duo, with new album What Now, Sylvan Esso have managed to steer away from falling into the typical jaws of the Electro-Pop trap and have produced something of a rare beauty that reaches out to a niche audience who seek more than a dance beat and a catchy chorus.

Exploring themes such as consumerism which is subtly touched upon in opening track “Sound” and the song “Radio“; What Now is an example of a more mature album which still provides an interesting yet pleasurable experience as the listener is guided through a journey of feisty quips in track “Die Young“, to more romanticised concepts in “Song”.

On listening through to the album, “Song” particularly stands out amongst the eclectic selection. Providing a much more relaxed approach to the electronic element of the Sylvan Esso’s music; it conjures a platform for Meath’s flawless and emotive vocals to take centre stage, presenting a more vulnerable touch to the slightly more generic sound we hear in following track “Just Dancing“.

Amelia Meath’s roots trace back to her work in Indie-Folk trio Mountain Man, where their performances were often a cappella, allowing the focal point to be their haunting and ethereal vocal melodies. Vocally, track “Song” breathes soothing and comforting notions of emotive parallels to Meath’s previous more personal lyrical work.

This also applies to “Slack Jaw“, which is performed almost completely a cappella with a tepid almost inaudible teetering beat sitting comfortably behind Meath’s trembling and timid vocal line. It is a reminder of the awkward and charming mannerisms of Sylvan Esso’s work and certainly broadens their appeal to reach to a much wider spread audience; particularly to those who are fans of Indie-Folk icons Bon Iver, Laura Marling and Daughter.

“Slack Jaw” provides a glaring contrast to “Radio”, where more daring song writing is explored as seen in the punchy first line of the second verse: “Now don’t you look good sucking American d**k“. The idea of a dislike for those who buy into mass consumerism becomes apparent as main vocal hook “Slave to the Radio” plays round the listener’s mind, evoking images of desperation for being adored.

What Now is the perfect blend of get-up-and-dance beats on tracks “Just Dancing”, “Radio” and “Kick Jump Twist” against the nervous and cathartic themes we are presented with towards the end of the album with songs “Signal”, “Slack Jaw”, and definitive track “Rewind” specifically contrasting to the much heavier beats heard earlier in the album.

The slower more detached synths heard in “Rewind” bare resemblance to electronica producer Four Tet, who similarly explores a mix of Trip Hop, Folktronica and classic Electronica. Although his samples never delve as deep into the darker realms of lyrical detachment; parallels can be found in the overall musical tone of his work and Sylvan Esso’s.

Overall, What Now provides an interesting and controversial listen whilst also demonstrating Sylvan Esso’s musical maturity as the duo dare to explore a wider range of timbres, techniques and trembles, particularly with the versatility of Meath’s voice.

Whilst the album is not the most unique musical work; it attempts to reach out to a slightly alternative audience rather than those who possess a great love for classic electro-pop. As with any album, each track feels its way to a listener’s favourite; which for me is torn between the ethereal echoes of “Slack Jaw” and the controversial lyrical themes of “Radio”.

Sylvan Esso’s What Now is out now via Loma Vista/Concord Music Group, purchase it on iTunes here.

Words by Rosa Jane

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