Impulsive muscle movement and free-spirited dancing equally reflected vocalist Amelia Meath’s confident performances on stage and her coping method to many scenarios on her band’s self titled debut album Sylvan Esso. Three years later, Meath and her producing partner Nick Sanborn continue to promote body shaking both lyrically and with their modern synth pop tunes but it’s the North Carolina duo’s commentary on contemporary life that’s particularly pulsating this time.
As a whole, Sylvan Esso don’t have the most unique sound. Excluding ‘Slack Jaw’ (which showcases tiny droplets of electronica behind soothing foregrounded vocal that they could copyright as their style), much of their synth approach follows in the footsteps of genre pacesetters Purity Ring, MSMR and Chvrches.
However, it’s when Sylvan Esso embrace their hipster side they can be attention-grabbing intriguing. Hipsters are known for drooling over nostalgia, recycling items and debating about Media & Technology and Meath and Sanborn do plenty of this on their second album release What Now.
On opener ‘Sound‘, Amelia Meath takes an old broken Korg MS-20 (a synthesizer that was discontinued in 1983) and controls the synths with her voice giving a robotic distortion in a clever reverse of the autotune effect, in that she dictates the creative output rather than concedes it lazily to automation. It’s all very delightfully Imogen Heap. Furthermore in the nostalgic mindset, in ‘Rewind’, Amelia Meath recollects about watching movies on VHS tapes as a child as a means to learn about life and the song contains the cute line: “Those friends you’re making on the screen, they teach you how to be“.
Whilst, Just Dancing is perhaps the most super-current take on romance of the year so far, as it cheekily commentates on the benefit of using dating app Tinder. The thought-provoking lyrics “I’m faking it before I even touch the skin. It’s a rigged game and I know how to win it,” points out that the sexually-active can go on a conveyor belt of first dates without anybody seeing their true colours.
On the flip side, ‘Signal’ and ‘Radio’ are cynical about Media & Technology. In the former, the lyrics address the idea of technology impersonating nature and vice-versa. “Little birdie making car alarm sounds/Was that a satellite you drew my love?“. Although ‘Radio’ is much more damning. It’s reminiscent of Lily Allen‘s ‘Hard Out Here’ from 2014 because not only does it criticise the pop industry factory in many ways from its exploitation to its deceptiveness, the song itself is so mainstream, catchy and accessible that it displays some level of hypocritical irony.
Yet the song contains some fantastic lines including “give me a new song” (a reaction to impatient journalists requesting new material immediately after their first record), “while the world riots on, we’re so happy to be listening to a radio” (a reflection of cowardly escapism) and “slave to the radio 3.30“, nerdily pointing out the length of a radio edit. Music nerds will also relate to the mentality on ‘The Glow‘, which narrates about a song by The Microphones as a pit stop for a high school memory.
The stand out track ‘Kick Jump Twist’ about the intensity of hardworking performers goes back to Sylvan Esso’s obsession with dancing. A multi-layered track that’s videogame sounds match the origin of their band name – Sylvan Sprite is a character in Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery – and it’s rising production grows rapidly in excitement sparking an uncontrollable frenzy. Perhaps dancing is the effective solution to chaos for now at least.
What Now is out now on Caroline International.