Sylvan Esso (photo courtesy of Loma Vista, PR)
Sylvan Esso, the duo of singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn, garnered a significant amount of praise for their 2014 self-titled debut. Since a band's sophomore album can sometimes be a daunting and intimidating task to undertake—the pressure of repeating or perhaps improving on the accomplishments of the debut—Meath and Sanborn might have wondered, “What now?” The answer to that question has been answered with their much-anticipated second album, What Now.
Meath and Sanborn began collaborating four years ago in Durham, North Carolina. At first glance, their musical backgrounds were both similar and different: Meath had been a member of the indie folk trio Mountain Man while Sanborn moonlighted with folk rockers Megafaun and had his own electronic solo project too, Made of Oak. Together, their chemistry worked. The uniqueness of their collaboration as Sylvan Esso came forth on their acclaimed debut and now blooms on What Now.
All ten of the new Sylvan Esso songs, which are written, performed and produced by Meath and Sanborn, build on the special qualities that always make this duo appealing. The pair draw on their distinctive influences and merge them into a seamless blend. Beats are advanced and complex, the melodies are sophisticated, and the lyrics are often quirky and playful, but can also turn quickly to become stinging and direct. Meath’s expressive vocals are confident, emotional and warm, even when dripping with sarcasm and vitriol.
The album’s brief opener, “Sound,” gently ties together Meath’s folk ballad abilities with Sanborn’s electronic distortion and effects. There are juxtaposed concepts throughout the album: “The Glow,” deals with a love of music while the sinister “Radio” tears into the inner workings of the music industry. “Die Young" is a tale of changed plans in the face of new love, but it's told in an unorthodox way.
“Signal” has one of the sweeter melodies on the album, boosted by Meath’s soaring vocals. “Slack Jaw” demonstrates Sylvan Esso at its minimalist best. The songs “Rewind” and “Kick Jump Twist” are paced by Sanborn’s quirky rhythms and complex time signatures.
When it comes time for Sylvan Esso's follow up to What Now, it will be interesting to see how Meath and Sanborn approach that question. It’s hard to fathom that the duo would struggle for an answer.