Album Reviews

Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso

(Partisan) UK release date: 2 June 2014

Sylvan Esso Folktronica is a genre that’s gone from strength to strength in recent years – acts from Wye Oak to Tunng, from Caribou to Ellie Goulding have forged a gorgeous coalescence, exploiting the oft-delicate nuances and frank emotion of folk, and the textures, dynamics and modernity of synth-based sounds.

Pushing the envelope one step further, Nick Sanborn (Megafaun) and Amelia Meath (Mountain Man) fused to create Sylvan Esso. They merge their skillsets together, and then yank in opposite directions until the sound is stretched like elastic between two conflicting camps; Meath’s vocals invoke a serenity, while Sanborn’s production creates immense in-depth structures.

For their self-titled debut, they lug out the big guns. We’ve heard some already: there’s the jagged, handclap melange of Hey Mami, punctuated by deep house basslines and scattershot e-beats. It’s a complex bout of rhythmic and harmonic genius. Coffee has been lobbed into the ether also, gently pulsing like a Tomas Barfod cut. There’s less folk here, though Meath’s soft vocals imply a softness, and Sanborn shines with dawn-glare hooks, providing a bold, sun-pecked melodic quality that remains unmatched on the record. Last year’s Play It Right features too; it clanks, rattles and roars with rustic grandeur. The twosome conjure mammoth noise here – it’s a kind of sprawling carefree outdoorsy let’s-rave-in-a-field sound.

Sylvan Esso – the record – hasn’t prematurely shot all its greatness however. Wolf, erring on the folksier side of their sound, replete with acoustic chords and finger-clicking, is adorably understated. Imbued with subtle funk and siren-wail synthwork, Uncatena sound reminiscent of indie-pop outfit Arthur Beatrice. Dreamy Bruises is much more aggressive in its production than much of the record, but the upped-ante and pace acceleration (as well as a glint of sinister malice in Meath’s voice) provide a nice contrast to the frequent tranquillity.

Sylvan Esso’s debut foray is stellar for a number of reasons. Firstly, they ably construct a sound, that while familiar in a lot of respects, manages to strike forth on its own merit and exist in its own world; true, we can slap a few labels on it, but they’re not aping what’s come before, they’re making it entirely their own. Secondly, their inherent ability to compose brilliance will make a lot of other acts jealous – every track they weld together is chock-full of massive pop motifs and avante-garde ingenuity. They’ve boldly put faith in an untested project, and they couldn’t have received better results.

It’s perhaps a subtler record overall than the preceding singles signalled, but it’s terrific nonetheless. It’s been said a few times already, but this album will find itself at home over the summer months. OST-ing sojourns to the coast, or car rides to nowhere, or lazy Pimm’s in the park days – it’s got that distinct blend of optimism, depth and chilled-pop that fits with sunshine like a puzzle piece. No doubt it’ll go down a treat at festivals, as people get doddery on a tipple or two, and begin jivin’ away in the night breeze. The folk elements lend Sylvan Esso a calm, and a daytime splendour, but Sanborn’s dance-oriented production, especially on the more electronic tracks, are set to be perfect 2am jams. This LP is the complete package.

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