Sylvan Esso – What Now

These could be all the sounds you'll need.

Sylvan Esso - What Now

These could be all the sounds you’ll need.

Label: Loma Vista Recordings
Released: 28th April 2017
Rating: ★★★★

Their blend of folk and electronics reflecting the duo’s backgrounds – Amelia Meath’s as a vocalist with Appalachian traditionalists Mountain Man, and Nick Sanborn’s as an electro producer dabbling in psych-folk, Sylvan Esso’s 2014 debut was more coffee shop than club. Now, as the band have said, they’ve allowed themselves “full permission to just make bangers.” They do – while embracing woodsy melancholia – and ‘What Now’ is often stunning.

The beatless ‘Sound’ fades in on waves, clicks and hisses. “All you’ll hear is sound, all you’ll feel is sound, all you’ll be is sound”, a heavily-processed Meath sings, pretty much summing the album up.

It’s like a discussion of the joys of music, the sheer possibilities of sound. The gaps between melody and noise, grief and joy. The synapse-tingling fizz and pop that leaps straight from your head to your feet, occupying in one moment the spooked, analogue headspace of Broadcast, cooing, folksy harmonies and LCD Soundsystem’s clipped dance-punk.

Riding warm currents of chopped acoustics, ‘The Glow’ is one of many songs about music, intimate and personal here (“I remember the glow/in my headphones/after school and slightly stoned”), but jerked in other directions elsewhere.

A snarky three-and-a-half minute banger about the pressure to make three-and-a-half minute bangers (“Give me a new single … Do you got the moves to get the clicks?”), ‘Radio’ is followed by the hooky call to “Dance… for the camera, dance” of ‘Kick Jump Twist’ – glitchy and insidious, with great, fuzzy wubs of bass. ‘Song’ radiates charm, guitar glimmering over driving synth. “I’m the song that you can’t get out of your head”, Meath sings, suggesting The Postal Service’s distant, lovesick ‘Such Great Heights’.

Their kind of sadcore synthpop is another strand running through ‘What Now’, from ‘Die Young”s bleak forever-love (“I was gonna die young/now I gotta wait for you, hon”) to ‘Just Dancing”s relationship reboot – “Just you and me with the beat/We’ll build back what we broke back then”. And it all comes together in the stark, gorgeous ‘Rewind’.

Over clattering oil-drum percussion and droning synths, a hushed Meath considers the ‘friends we’re making on the screen’. Is it worth shutting off completely; a Ctrl+Alt+Del on life, starting all over again? The most perfect splicing of the electronic and organic here, with a rolling acoustic picking up the tune halfway along, it’s a musical rewind too, whether to keep the dancefloor going, or to turn over and stay wrapped in ‘What Now’’s comforting cocoon. “All you’ll hear is sound”. And these could be all the sounds you’ll need. Rob Mesure

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