Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sylvan Esso - Sylvan Esso (2014)

Nothing could have possibly prepared me for the glittering electro pop of North Carolina duo Sylvan Esso. On paper, the duo's very existence seemed well, like the most unlikely origin story: Amelia Randall Meath of Mountain Man teams up with Nicholas Sanborn, former Megafaun backing member for electronic fun times. Two talented folk musicians tackle a genre known for being inorganic. And yet that should've been the first hint that Sylvan Esso were up to something new; something wildly different. Sure, Sanborn's been making beats and the like under the moniker of Made of Oak for years. Sure, Meath's delivery on "Play It Right" is far more electric than its former harmony-laden confines. But those aren't the points anyone's making when explaining who/what Sylvan Esso is and to their benefit, they don't really need to be made.

On their self-titled debut, Sylvan Esso assert their existence in probably the best way possible - by the mere virtue of their existence. The voice of the duo (with the exception of the rare assisted backing vocal), Amelia Randall Meath's bound to get the majority of the praise (all well deserved) but it's clear that the work is definitely that of the innovative twosome. Nicholas Sanborn is trusted not only to man the samples but also to control Meath's vocals - to stack the layers on top of each other, affect and manipulate them. It's a hell of a lot of trust to give and one that Sanborn doesn't fail to earn. It's a relationship of effortless give and take; Sanborn's carefully constructed scaffolding provide the perfect home for Meath's vocals to coo, croon, and ultimately soar. At no point does it ever appear that either are doing the heavy lifting - Sylvan Esso is very much an equal venture, Sanborn and Meath's roles a delightful commingling of talents.

Sylvan Esso is impressive not only for it's sense of articulateness; of defining just exactly the band but also doing it so strongly. It's sort of a given that there's going to be a favorite or two among the selection of tracks and yet, the duo make the choice a hard one. Each song is a contender and they all seek to instill and motivate their obvious love of dance in them. The only exception is apt album ender "Come Down" which not only serves to remind us that every party - even the great ones must sometimes come to an end, but is perhaps the most stark and free of the album's ten tracks. It's the one that's more in line with the idea of two folkies playing around with electronics and even then manages to subvert it. It's oddly fitting that Sylvan Esso opt to end their collection of dancefloor decimators with a light and beautiful outro. One where the true dynamic is likely to misread - as Sanborn subtly makes way for Meath's shimmering glide. After an album of a riveting interplay between them, the duo know each other's strengths and aren't afraid to deploy them.

Sylvan Esso's debut self-titled full length is out May 13th on Partisan Records. You can stream it via NPR's First Listen here.

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