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(SXSW 2017 flavoured!) Video of the Moment #2345: Sylvan Esso

 
By on Thursday, 20th April 2017 at 6:00 pm
 

While their appearance last year was a surprise, Sylvan Esso‘s return to Austin for SXSW 2017 was, this time anyway, anticipated. The American electropop duo will be releasing their sophomore effort ‘What Now’ next Friday on Loma Vista Recordings. To celebrate the new record, they’ve unveiled a promo video for LP track ‘Radio’, which itself was made public as a single late last year. In the promo, the high speed world seen on the motorways of America at night are contrasted against the high intensity world of models. There’s probably some philosophical message behind this video. I hope, anyway. Watch the music video for Sylvan Esso’s single ‘Radio’ below. To read more on the duo on TGTF, use this link.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=effZUjig794[/youtube]

 

Single Review: Sylvan Esso – Radio / Kick Jump Twist

 
By on Wednesday, 23rd November 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Shervin Lainez

In a surprise appearance at SXSW 2016, American electropop duo Sylvan Esso teased an ecstatic audience with the possibility of new music before the end of the year. It turns out, the charmingly eclectic pair are as good as their word. In August, they released a new single called ‘Radio’, and last week they followed it with the b-side to the 12” vinyl release of ‘Radio’, titled ‘Kick Jump Twist’.

Sylvan Esso seems to have suffered a bit of an existential crisis in the hypnotically groovy ‘Radio’. Singer Amelia Meath mocks herself mercilessly in the second verse lines, “singin’ I’ve got the moves of a TV queen / folk girl hero in a magazine / faking the truth in a new pop song / don’t you wanna sing along?” Nick Sanborn’s trippy backbeats under the song’s chorus are so irresistibly hooky that you almost miss the derisive tone in the lyrics. “Slave to the radio / three point three-oh” apparently refers to the track’s running time, which precisely (and probably not coincidentally) fits the conventional radio-prescribed length of three minutes and thirty seconds.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/6LEmDEZVa5g[/youtube]

B-side ‘Kick Jump Twist’ is more abstractly electronic and only slightly less lyrically sardonic than its radio-single flip. Meath’s silky vocal melody in the chorus lyric “they want all the invisible eyes on them” keeps the track musically grounded while Sanborn’s synthesised rhythms deviate from the radio-friendly path to explore broader swaths of uncharted sonic territory.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/GYeGMw21fgM[/youtube]

Above all else, this new double-sided single lays to rest any lingering questions about how Sylvan Esso might sustain the unusual combination of folk singer and EDM producer beyond one popular debut album. If these two new tracks are any indication, Sylvan Esso have taken a decidedly edgy and bravely expansive musical turn without abandoning the vocal lyricism and fundamental dance groove that initially charmed their audiences.

9/10

Sylvan Esso’s new double-sided single ‘Radio / Kick Jump Twist’ is available now from Loma Vista Recordings. For more on TGTF on the duo, go here.

 

SXSW 2016: Friday night at Empire Control Room, Vulcan Gas Company, St. David’s Episcopal Church and Mohawk Outdoor – 18th March 2016

 
By on Tuesday, 12th April 2016 at 4:00 pm
 

The Friday evening of SXSW 2016 was fraught with challenges, most of which involved the weather forecast. Rain clouds threatened late in the afternoon but didn’t erupt into thunderstorms until early evening, just as the night showcases were beginning in downtown Austin. Mary had initially planned to see shows at Stubb’s and the McDonald’s Loft that evening, but both outdoor venues postponed their start times due to thunder and lightning in the area, not to mention the actual rain. Fortunately, my own plan for the evening started at an indoor venue, the Empire Control Room, with teenage alt-pop up-and-comer Declan McKenna (pictured at top).

Lightning flashed in the skies over Austin as I walked to the Empire Control Room, but luckily I got there before it began to rain in earnest. I found a spot near the stage well before the show was set to begin, but I was surprised at how quickly the room filled with punters. It took me a few minutes to realise that the swelling crowd was due to the closure of Empire’s outdoor venue, the Garage. The Control Room quickly filled to capacity, and Mary was delayed in joining me after her shuffling of plans for the evening.

Declan McKenna's pedals, Friday at SXSW 2016

The stormy weather was quite lucky for McKenna, who played that evening to possibly a larger audience than he expected. There were a few diehard fans at the front of the stage who had heard McKenna play already in the course of the week, but his songs were largely new to me. I was immediately impressed by his stage presence and pleasant singing voice, but as his set progressed, I saw that McKenna was more than just a boy with a guitar and a gift for words. He played the large stage like a seasoned pro, deftly managing his guitar, keyboard and an array of foot pedal effects in a manner that reminded me very much of the first time I saw another teenaged pop sensation, Ed Sheeran, way back in 2012. If you haven’t yet heard Declan McKenna, keep your ears on the radio for his catchy hit single, the FIFA-inspired ‘Brazil’.

AirLands, Friday at SXSW 2016

After McKenna’s set, I headed back out into the rain for a quick walk to Vulcan Gas Company, which was hosting a series of showcases sponsored by music distribution platform TuneCore. I was due to interview Scottish rock band Holy Esque before their set on the TuneCore showcase later that evening, but I turned up early to scope out the venue and caught a couple of interesting acts in the process. Brooklyn-based indie artist AirLands (aka Kevin Calaba) was on stage when I arrived, playing stripped back versions of his atmospheric, orchestrally-arranged songs. I’m not an avid television fan, but I might not have recognized recent single ‘Love and Exhale’ without the elaborate ornamentation of the recording even if I had heard it when it was featured on The Vampire Diaries last year. The song has also garnered attention from Google Play and Spotify, and it’s worth a listen if you haven’t come across it already.

Strange Fiction, Friday at SXSW 2016

Following AirLands were two Austin-based acts, retro synth-pop band Strange Fiction and solo artist The Wealthy West. Strange Fiction’s five-member arrangement created a markedly fuller sound than either of the surrounding solo acts, and their onstage energy was infectious as they centered their set around catchy single ‘Memphis’. The Wealthy West was naturally a bit more subdued, as I might have expected from the solo side project of The Rocketboys‘ frontman Brandon Kinder. The Rocketboys were selected to showcase at SXSW this year as well, but Kinder’s acoustic set featured a handful of introspective, gospel-tinged country rock ballads that seemed to come from a more personal place than what I’ve previously heard from the full band.

Wealthy West, Friday at SXSW 2016

At that point, I had to step away from the stage to meet up with the members of Holy Esque, and after trying in vain to find a quiet spot for our scheduled interview, the five of us ended up stepping outside into the alley for a very quick chat, which you can hear here. The band had gotten stuck in traffic on the way to the venue and were due onstage in short order, but despite this minor stress, Holy Esque cranked up the volume on the Vulcan Gas Company stage with their massive synth-rock sound. As promised in the interview clip, the band filled their short set list with songs from their new album ‘At Hope’s Ravine’, which was released just before SXSW and which had apparently garnered them at least one new fan. (You’ll see her in the second photo below, taken just before she was escorted from the stage.)

Holy Esque, Friday at SXSW 2016

Holy Esque, Friday at SXSW 2016

After Holy Esque’s set, I decided to take my chances on some of the unknown Special Guests listed on the SXSW schedule. Surprise slots were listed at several venues, including St. David’s Episcopal Church, which was hosting the always high quality Communion Music showcase. I arrived at the church too late to see Jake Bugg (sob!), but I got there in time to see another new-to-me artist, Australian singer/songwriter Ry X, who was playing just ahead of the scheduled Special Guest. His smooth neo-folk stylings and predominantly falsetto vocals struck me immediately as appealing to fans of James Vincent McMorrow and Bon Iver. You can listen for yourself in the recent video for ‘Only’, which will feature on Ry X’s upcoming album ‘Dawn’, due out on the 6th of May.

Ry X, Friday at SXSW 2016

In the interim after Ry X’s set, I found out from fellow audience members that the Special Guest on Communion’s showcase would be Liverpool singer/songwriter Låpsley, who I’d seen just the night before at Stubb’s. I recommended her to those who hadn’t already had the pleasure of hearing her sing, but I ultimately decided to test the waters elsewhere. I sent out a last minute tweet asking about the Special Guest on the docket at the Mohawk Outdoor and was pleasantly surprised to hear that it would be electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso, who had won me over at Tucson’s Club Congress back in 2014. In retrospect, Sylvan Esso’s appearance shouldn’t have been a total surprise, as Mary and I had seen a glimpse of Nick Sanborn’s Made of Oak side project set on Monday at Barracuda.

Sylvan Esso, Friday at SXSW 2016

By this time the rain had stopped, and I hastily made my way to the Mohawk in hopes that I could still get in. Once again, luck was on my side, and while I couldn’t get anywhere near the stage, I was excited to find a decent spot in the courtyard amongst a throng of fans who were already buzzing with the anticipation of hearing Sylvan Esso. The wildly popular duo had been conspicuously quiet in recent months, but much to my delight, they burst their bubble of silence at the Mohawk on Friday night with a handful of brand new, never-before-heard songs. While familiar numbers ‘Coffee’ and ‘Hey Mami’ were natural crowd favourites, the new tracks were were received with rapturous cheers and ecstatic dancing, not the least from yours truly, as I ended my rather arduous Friday night on a euphoric high.

Sylvan Esso, Friday at SXSW 2016

 

Live Review: Sylvan Esso with Dana Buoy at Club Congress, Tucson, AZ – 19th August 2014

 
By on Friday, 22nd August 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Header photo by DL Anderson

This past Tuesday night, I continued my foray into the Arizona music scene with a trip to Tucson’s Club Congress to see North Carolina electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso. The venue itself is situated in the historic Hotel Congress, which has a lovely restaurant and separate bar area in addition to the club itself. Since I was running a bit late, I didn’t spend too much time exploring, choosing instead to head straight to the stage area. The room was sparsely populated at that point, about 30 minutes before the show was set to begin, but it gradually filled in, and there were clearly some fans there who had come to see the opening act, Portland-based band Dana Buoy.

Dana Buoy at Club Congress 19 Aug 2014

Headed by frontman Dana Janssen, formerly of experimental rock band Akron/Family, Dana Buoy is an indie-rock act that mixes hints of warm West Coast sunshine in with their heavily psychedelic leanings. They opened the show with the expansive ‘Let Go Awhile’, which boded well for the rest of their set, but during their second number, ironically called ‘So Lucky’, things began to fall apart a bit. Janssen broke a guitar string (the low E, for those of you who care to know), and though he finished the song, he had to ask his bandmates, bass/keys man Justin Miller and drummer Logan Corcoran, to do an extended instrumental vamp while he changed it for a new one. The relatively sparse ‘Isla Mujeres’ was plagued a bit by the hastily tuned string, and Corcoran had some issues throughout the set with a rickety snare and cymbal, but he band were able to find a placid groove by the middle of their surprisingly lengthy opening set. They played a mix of brand new tracks and older favorites, including a nifty cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Everywhere’, which features on recent EP ‘Preacher’, before closing with ‘Satellite Ozone’, from 2012 album ‘Summer Bodies’.

At the end of Dana Buoy’s set, the crowd in the small venue tangibly swelled, pushing toward the front of the room for the eagerly awaited entrance of the headline act. With no live instruments other than singer Amelia Meath’s velvety voice, Sylvan Esso’s stage arrangement is almost ridiculously simple; it took more time for Dana Buoy to clear off the stage than it did for Sylvan Esso to set up.

Sylvan Esso at Club Congress 19 Aug 2014

Is there still any debate as to whether the computer is a musical instrument? Producer Nick Sanborn put the question to rest right away, using only a rather spare looking electronic array to put down the rhythm tracks and sonic effects behind Meath’s lyrical stylings on the hot popular hit ‘Hey Mami’. Throughout the set, Sanborn turned knobs and manipulated sounds with an amazing degree of precision and technical skill, especially considering the rhythmic complexity of some of the duo’s tracks.

Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso

Sanborn’s previous experience in electronic music was fairly obvious (his solo project, Made of Oak, is pure electro), but Meath’s background in a cappella folk music seemed much farther removed from Sylvan Esso as I watched her onstage. Her sensual vocals and and saucy dance moves played to the visceral sensibilities of the crowd, who had come to get their groove on despite the tight space. Meath not only sang the liquid lyrical lines, but also displayed impressive physical prowess as she very gracefully gyrated and undulated through the dance beats in a pair of 4-inch platform soled boots. Sanborn’s dance moves, performed as he hunched over his computer, were markedly more rigid, but rather in keeping with the pair’s constant juxtaposition of organic and electronic elements.

Meath and Sanborn played through almost the entirety of their debut self-titled album, which was only released in the spring of this year on Partisan Records. Despite the relative newness of their songs, the punters in the crowd were clearly familiar with the tunes, singing along with Meath’s sexy rendering of the borrowed line “my baby does the hanky panky” in the addictive single ‘Coffee’ and her crooning “oohs” in hypnotic track ‘Wolf’.

Amelia Meath of Sylvan Esso

Sylvan Esso closed the night with the track that started their collaboration, ‘Play It Right’, which was originally written for Meath’s folk trio, Mountain Man. Recontextualized by Sanborn, the song takes flight in live performance, and it left the crowd chanting for more. Unfortunately, the duo didn’t have more to give; being a new band with only one album to play from, they had by that point exhausted their repertoire. Sylvan Esso’s free trading collaboration has been abundantly fruitful in a short amount of time, and if the response at Club Congress is any indication, their audience would clearly love to hear it continue.

Sylvan Esso will tour the UK and Ireland beginning this September. Stay tuned to TGTF for a full list of tour dates.

After the cut: Dana Buoy and Sylvan Esso’s set lists.
Continue reading Live Review: Sylvan Esso with Dana Buoy at Club Congress, Tucson, AZ – 19th August 2014

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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