The North Carolina-based duo Sylvan Esso may well be one of the more vital bands around right now. In a tumultuous time when you need both the comfort of fluffy clouds floating harmlessly above you all while still feeling for the grounding of a gritty beat, Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn have got you covered providing both a toast of escapism alongside a double-drop of reality. It’s existential excellence we can all enjoy.
Forming in 2013, missing out on Sylvan Esso’s rise to their esteemed position in the indie-EDM space is easily rectifiable. Listening to their brand new album Free Love will give you all the education you need as to why this duo are rightly lauded for their creativity and songmanship. As Meath told Entertainment Weekly of the band: “It’s sort of electronic music and he’s going to make beats and I’m going to sing and it’s going to be massive and amazing.” She was right.
The band’s third major LP shows that they are only now just hitting their stride, Free Love is perhaps the most potent distillation of their sound and creativity that they’ve put in place. One of the crystalline moments of the entire LP is the first song ‘What If?’, a spoken word piece with Meath’s words front and centre that poses a series of wholly unanswerable questions. It’s backed by a beat Bon Iver would be proud of and takes on some rather large existential matters with the nonchalance of a teenager. With the singer’s soon-to-be-iconic vocal kicking in, the album is set up for success.
The major single from the record, ‘Ferris Wheel’ is almost the opener’s complete counterpoint. It provides a series of summery vignettes providing hopes of sexual gratification and a beat that is unstoppably infectious. It’s a piece of music that can transport you to a whole new place, time and narrative. It’s a real joy. This duality is what sets Sylvan Esso apart from the rest.
There’s something unique about Sylvan Esso in the fact that they can play both roles so effectively. On the album’s more reflective moments Meath and Sanborn are effective and open to their expressions, welcoming the darkness and dealing with it in a cultured and curative way. But the duo are just as comfortable dancing their hearts out and giving their audiences a moment to forget all their troubles. In fact, this continuous pursuit of balance may be the only place the LP falls down.
If you’ve been a fan of Sylvan Esso since their 2013 inception then chances are this ability to work with the shadows and the lights of life so effectively and efficiently is already well known to you. If you were picking up Free Love for a bit of musical evolution then you will be disappointed. The sonics and direction here are nothing particularly new, especially not to the duo.
Luckily for Sylvan Esso, if you picked up the album to hear a great record then they have you covered. On Free Love, Sylvan Esso have not only established their style once again through a series of emotionally intelligent and yet groove-laden electronic music, but they seem to have refined it even further, distilling everything they made them great into ten incredible track.
It’s 29 minutes of heartening restorative musical joy.