Sylvan Esso - What Now

Sylvan Esso’s newest release, What Now, starts with an idea that is creatively carried throughout the entire album. This idea encompasses the concept of music itself and how it moves you. Amelia Meath told NPR the following about the intro track, 'Sound': “It functions as a statement of purpose and a love letter to the listener. ‘Here you go, we made this for you, let it take you away from your general day-to-day for a little while, let it lift you.’”

What Now is much like their self-titled debut with playful synths, pop melodies, beefy bass, and minimalist production. This album feels more conceptual, though, with songs like ‘Sound’, ‘The Glow’, and ‘Radio’ - all of which are written about music. ‘The Glow’, one of my favorites on the album, is simply Meath relaying the emotions she felt while listening to one of her favorite albums in high school, The Glow, Pt. 2 by The Microphones. I think we’ve all been there; you find that one album or band that launches you into a discovery of the infinite possibilities in music. ‘Radio’ is a reaction to the idea that songwriters have to write hit songs in order to sustain an audience. This track is sassy and angsty, which is emphasized with the repetitive disco-like beat.

Sylvan Esso brilliantly disguises their pop melodies and format beneath experimental synth-driven compositions and snappy percussions. They have a very unique approach to synth-pop, easily setting themselves apart from their peers. Not to mention Amelia Meath’s refreshing vocals and cunning lyrics. For instance, ‘Die Young’ sounds undoubtedly pop, but the techno beats, powerful synths, and flute-like melodies gives it an edge.

The effects they create are refreshing in the current atmosphere; they’re unexpected and inventive and it makes perfect sense. Their use of so many unique sounds allows for a wide range of emotion in their music. For the most part, What Now is exciting and that comes through in the vocal delivery and percussions. ‘Signal’ feels victorious with rich layers of vocals, a straight drum beat, and bursting synths. ‘Radio’ uses rapid sounds and steady beats, making you want to move with it.

The second half of the album slows down some and has a slightly more serious tone. ‘Song’, a love song, uses acoustic guitar and strings, reminding me of mushy indie love songs from the early 00’s. ‘Slack Jaw’ is essentially just vocals and a hint of vocoder floating in the background. During an interview, Meath explains the idea of this song in one simple statement: “Everything is awesome - and I am still sad.”

Sylvan Esso has some of their best songs yet on What Now; ‘The Glow’, ‘Die Young’, ‘Radio’. The more you listen to the album, the more you hear the weight of Meath’s words. Sylvan Esso successfully bends the rules of traditional pop in a clever and philosophical way. They’ve shown that they can deliver a consistent sound with the ability to evolve and grow. I can see myself listening to What Now in the car, windows down, all summer long.


by Amber Harris

Amber Harris