Sylvan Esso’s debut to the world may not be a revolutionary new sound, but it took elements of sounds that already existed, and bested the competition in my book. It was a cold, rainy day on a long drive back to Chicago as I was sipping on my own cup of joe when I first heard the song “Coffee”. Suffice it to say, it stuck out to me quite a bit. I distinctly remember the first time I heard the track because I remember thinking that it was the first new song from a new artists that I have really loved in a while. And by that I essentially mean that it was the best song I have heard yet this year. Little did I know that this new collaborative duo was about to rule my playlist with a few more songs than just “Coffee”, and become my favorite new artist of the year (so far).
Sylvan Esso is made up of Amelia Randall Meath and Nicholas Sanborn. Amelia Randall Meath was first known for her work with Mountain Man, an all-female three-piece indie folk band, in which most songs are a cappella or sometimes accompanied by light strings such as an acoustic guitar. Nicholas Sanborn was a bassist for Megafaun, which is also a folk-ish band that had some major psychedelic properties to their music as well. The two both came from extremely earthy/rootsy folk music backgrounds, so when you think of them combining to create a new band, electronic pop music isn’t exactly the first thing that would pop into your head. But when the two got together, the light strings were replaced by synths and beautiful electric layers of melodic looping beats. Amelia’s voice is a beautiful instrument itself, delicately flowing over this new-found genre of music very naturally. Her voice brings a human element to the robotic music, almost in a way that I haven’t heard before. It is warm, inviting, and comforting, which are things that are generally not associated with electronic music.
“Hey Mami” is the first track of the album, and really lifts it off the ground immediately. The intro leads into the song in a very a cappella manner. Almost as if she is channeling her previous work, and allowing the listener (as well as herself) to slowly transition into this new world of electronic dub. The vocals loop throughout, as the song stacks layers of beats and synths upon itself. You almost expect the beat to drop at some point and for the song to explode. I am sure there will be remixes down the road that take this track to that level, but for all intents and purposes I am very glad they resisted the urge and kept it as chill as they did.
The album may start with its catchiest tune, but my interest never floundered a bit. Where my attention normally fades in a James Blake album, Sylvan Esso doesn’t get repetitive or boring. Nor do they, as I mentioned earlier, ever feel cold and sterile like so many similar artists of this genre usually do (i.e. James Blake, xx, etc.). They even show a lot of depth to their music lyrically, without losing a playful edge. For instance, the chorus to insightful song “Wolf” finds Amelia simply howling like a wolf. Perhaps taking a page from ole Warren Zevon’s book. To me, “Coffee” seems like a hodgepodge of homages and shout outs but the most obvious is the wrap-up of the song that sings out “My Baby Does the Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells. The entire song seems very physical and sexual, so this makes the “Hanky Panky” all the more clever. And call me a crazy-ass, but even the “Get up, get down” lines of the chorus seem reminiscent to Coolio’s catchy chorus to “1,2,3,4” (“gotta gotta get up to get down” is a hilariously brilliant line by the way).
^The video for coffee takes you through a dance party spanning people of all generations and scenes. Appropriate given the nature of the song.
The album finishes very strong with two very energetic tracks “Uncatena” and “Play It Right”, and then closes with the aptly titled “Come Down”, which is basically an ambient track to soothe the listener out of the album. Kind of like the cigarette after sex. The album is a great listen for many moods, and really is a nice change of pace to some of the more bland and cold minimalist electronic albums of recent.
Can’t Miss: “Hey Mami”, “Wolf”, “Coffee”, “Uncatena”, “Play It Right”
Can’t Hit: None