Album Review: Sylvan Esso – What Now

By on Friday, 19th May 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Sylvan Esso What Now coverBuilding on the momentum from their second consecutive appearance at SXSW back in March, American electropop darlings Sylvan Esso have just released their second LP ‘What Now’. Their self-titled debut album, which grew from a collaboration on a single track, came out in the spring of 2014 to great, and seemingly unexpected, fanfare around the indie music world. Singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn were apparently taken aback by their initial success, but they have handled it masterfully on ‘What Now’, facing head-on the challenge of the sophomore slump.

The first single from ‘What Now’ was the rather oxymoronic ‘Radio’, which somehow managed to be both deeply meta-analytical and incorrigibly danceable. Given its ubiquity on SiriusXM Radio here in the States, I’d say ‘Radio’ accomplished exactly what Meath and Sanborn intended it to do, proving that Sylvan Esso are capable of writing radio-friendly hits without giving up the sharply ironic perspective that marked early tracks like ‘Hey Mami’. ‘Kick Jump Twist’, previously released along with ‘Radio’, offers a peek at the album’s lighter side. (You can read our previous review of both tracks through here.) Meath’s vocals are coyly understated and Sanborn’s soundscape is restrained, only leaping into decisive action briefly under the chorus.

Recent single ‘Die Young’ is perhaps the strongest track on the album, which is saying something, considering that it appears just before ‘Radio’ in the tracklisting. But it’s in the chorus of ‘Die Young’ where Sylvan Esso strike an acutely personal note, where they have previously remained aloof and lightly mocking, with the lyrics “I was going to die young / but now I’ve got to wait for you, honey.” It’s an emotional epiphany, to be sure, but a musical one as well, with Sanborn’s dark bass underscoring Meath’s layered vocals and creating a depth of sound that never quite materialised on the first album.

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Early on the album,’The Glow’ catches Sylvan Esso in a rare and charming moment of pure happiness, as Meath fondly remembers a beloved record from her teenage days. Sylvan Esso’s exploration of new romance continues in the seductive ‘Song’, where Meath sweetly croons, “I’m the song that you can’t get out of your head”. They revert to their darker tendencies and revisit their metaphysical ponderings later in the track listing with ‘Signal’, which Meath described to NPR as “searching for truth and honesty in a sea of noise”. In that vein, final tracks ‘Slack Jaw’ and ‘Rewind’ are markedly quieter and slower, closing the album on a fitting note of quiet introspection.

Following the success of their quirky debut album, Sylvan Esso clearly spent some time considering the relevant question—what now?—and its implications for their sound. They’ve taken a more conscious and deliberate approach on ‘What Now’, and while these songs don’t have the breezy spontaneity of the ones on ‘Sylvan Esso’, they also aren’t overly weighed down by the pressure of previous success. Both seasoned musicians in their own right, Meath and Sanborn are clearly aware of the ephemeral nature of the business they’re in, but they’ve proved here that they’re no flash-in-the-pan.

8.5/10

Sylvan Esso’s sophomore LP ‘What Now’ is out now on Loma Vista Recordings. They’ll be touring the UK and Ireland in November; all the dates are listed back here. You can look back on our full archive of coverage on Sylvan Esso through this link.

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