Sylvan Esso – What Now

#AlbumReview Sonically and lyrically asking questions of life

We’ve been pretty giddy all week knowing that Sylvan Esso‘s hotly awaited follow up to their 2014 self titled debut album was finally arriving. ‘What Now’ hit the stores and the web-waves accompanied by this short vid which gives you an insight into their creative process. We suggest you start there and then dive in to the full length.

A folk singer armed with a keen observational eye and scathing lyrical flair combined with (at times very) busy electronic production may not immediately strike you as something that would work, but based on the output of Amelia Meath (vocals) and Nick Sanborn (production) it has its merits.

The bell curve journey through the album is a format we are fond of and one that is followed almost to the book on ‘What Now’. The vinyl crackles and digitised harmonies of the repeated vocal phrase on ‘Sound’ represent an early morning awakening (if you’re a human) or the spinning of the hard drive as you boot up (if you’re a computer). The latter analogy seems more appropriate as the glitchy intro and 8-bit drums of ‘The Glow’ crunch out, moving you towards to the body of the working day that lies ahead.

‘Die Young’ is the slightly melancholy moment of reflection in the middle of the day (we’re back to human analogies now), the chorus telling us “I was gonna die young, now I gotta wait for you honey”. The fade in and out of synth breaks and beefier drum breaks act like waves of emotion as Meath’s words ricochet between being content with going out early in a ball of flames and being slightly miffed at having encountered someone/thing that makes her want to stick around. Weird no?

The album’s peak starts with the biting rant of ‘Radio’. Sonically the track expands from an introverted synth-bass bounce verse into an array of bleeps and filtered sounds being allowed to open up through the chorus. Then comes the slow building Kick Jump Twist, which lifts you with gusto as the grunt of the chorus synth hits your chest. Again the chorus is accompanied by more bleeps firing like lasers around the stereo field. This is the post work trip to the pub and inevitable journey to a trashy local club that you really shouldn’t be in whilst you’re wearing a suit.

For us there’s a hiccup in the track listing next. ‘Just Dancing’ is the obvious next tune, carrying the feel and theme already established by the album’s central tracks. It’s the end of the night song you hear before you get thrown out onto the street. The sweet strings of ‘Song’ seem out of place sandwiched between such raucous tracks. More appropriately they represent the words uttered on the walk home.

Thereafter the decent towards the end of the day (well night now) beings. Sanborn’s sonics become sparser, almost naked on ‘Slack Jaw’ which leaves plenty of space for the vocals to breath. Closing track ‘Rewind’ feels pretty appropriately placed. A combination of the flavours we’ve heard across the album but never fully going in. At the same we are instructed to Watch them, take it on back … Do it again, light up the room”. Noting the lyrical style of the album we were left wondering whether this was a jibe at the repetitive nature life can appear to have at times. This could easily lead one to ask the question “What Now(?)”.

NOTE: Whilst the album title doesn’t have a question mark (?), we really think it should!