Album Review: Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso

sylvan-esso-album-coverOver the last year or so albums like Taken By Trees’ Other Worlds and Wild Belle’s Isles have bridged the gap between electronic sounds and traditional rhythmic sensibilities by emphasizing beats and vocals while employing contemporary production. Duo Sylvan Esso’s eponymous debut, out now on Partisan Records, continues that trend with an album full of songs constructed around singer Amelia Meath’s voice mixed with Nick Sanborn’s buzzing synths and beats that feel organic, almost tribal.

The first minute of the album features only a wash of white noise–the fact that it could be swelling waves or passing cars says everything about this record’s ethos–accompanied by Meath’s voice and a sparse, single handclap. The synths and electronic drums roll in around a minute and a half through with a steady thump and whirring backbeats. This opener, “Hey Mami,” shows Sylvan Esso putting their best foot forward as this track remains a highlight among the ten album cuts. Most of the tracks follow a simple structure that consists of wavering, buzzing synthesizers and percussion that’s consistent without coming anywhere near the incessant, mechanical thud of EDM. It’s Meath’s voice that gives the song’s levity and diversity, operating as a central tool of the album by way of multi-tracked vocals of impressive dexterity.

Subtle elements such as what sounds like an acoustic guitar buried in the mix on “Wolf” and ever so gently plucked on sparse closer “Come Down” evidence the band’s commitment to sonic detail. Late album track and single “Coffee” rises triumphantly as the record’s catchiest cut. The song is mellow yet infectiously upbeat, smooth yet punchy; it’s a dare not to get up and dance alone in your room. Before the minimalist album-ender, Sylvan Esso goes big with hard-hitting beats and anthemic production on “Play It Right;” the track offers several great examples of producer Sanborn’s talent for using understated loops to move between the song’s more epic moments.

Using streamlined song formulas and a simple approach to arrangement, Sylvan Esso has created a remarkable and breezy album perfect for these late spring days, moving into early summer. Though most of the tools are electronic, their straightforward usage functions in the same way beat-based music has always functioned, especially as they work with Meath’s warm vocals. The result is something as pure and organic as it is memorable and timeless.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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