Folk and Synth Never Sounded So Good
The new album, What Now, from Sylvan Esso is just as synth-y and pop-filled as the group’s first release. Yet, lyrically, they depart from what they did on their self-titled debut and journey to a much darker and facetious space.
The Durham-based electropop band have only released one other album, but both performers come from musical backgrounds. Lead singer Amelia Meath was once a part of folk group Mountain Man, while producer Nick Sanborn has played with psychedelic band Megafun. The two came together and brought aspects from both of their previous projects to create records with unusual vocals and textures.
As fans would expect, the album is drenched in synth and sprinkled with humorous and oftentimes acerbic lyrics. The first track, “Sound,” crackles with synth before lead singer Amelia Meath’s crystal-clear vocals slowly layer on top of one another. “The Glow” opens with a guitar that sounds like it’s skipping on a scratched up CD, but by two minutes transforms into a hypnotic and danceable pop song. The third track, “Die Young,” is one of the most infectious songs on the record. Despite its carefree sound, the lyrics depict a much darker story. The imagery paints an entirely different picture from what the listener is hearing, with lyrics like, “I had it all planned out before you met me / was gonna leave early and so swiftly / maybe in a fire or crash off a ravine / people would weep, ‘how tragic so early.’” The next two songs, “Radio” and “Kick Jump Twist,” also have a contagious beat and feature dark, but funny, lines.
One of the most experimental-sounding tracks is “Just Dancing.” Maybe it’s the heavy synthesizer or Meath’s unusual vocals, but it’s a song that will surely grow on the listener. “Signal” begins as if it is the start to a news program from the ’80s, before the sound of a clap signifies its change as it erupts into noise. The second-to-last track, “Slack Jaw,” is a departure from the rest of album, focusing on Meath’s stunning voice while music plays softly in the background. The record closes with “Rewind.” It’s similar to the first song in that it is more reserved and serves as a sort of cool-down from the rest of the pop songs featured on the album.
What Sylvan Esso do so well is take lyrics that are bitter, when standing alone, and douse them in pop, thus tricking the listener while still managing to retain their edge. Whether it’s an unnamed character starving for attention on “Kick Jump Twist” or an eccentric relationship and how it relates to the radio on “Radio,” both the lyrics and synthesizers interlock together to make for a curious and satisfying album.