Sylvan Esso Album Review

Lisa Dreher


Some collaborations between artists have felt more hodge-podged and forced than in sync, but Sylvan Esso blends elements of folk and electro-pop into a surprisingly fluid, crisp sound. Amelia Meath, a member of the Americana trio Mountain Man, joined with electronic producer Nick Sanborn, who performs under the moniker Made of Oak and also plays bass in the psych-rock band Megafaun, after he remixed the Mountain Man’s song “Play it Right.” The duo formed in Durham, North Carolina, an area seemingly dry of artistic creativity and caught in between the rootsy foreground of the south and the experimental north, in 2013.

Their self-titled debut album was released in 2014 by Partisan Records, and cooly claps in the intro to the album with “Hey Mami.” The mumble of city sounds makes the track feel as if they recorded it while strolling around the streets of New York City. Meath’s silky, purring voice imitates the coaxing catcalls of the city with “Hey mami / I know what you want mami.”

At first listen, the song seems to praise this beautiful woman, but then the lyric lingers in the background like the degrading, constant remarks which women step around and tone out everyday on the streets.

Meath sings from an observer’s perspective, saying how the woman walks quickly to escape the harassment, and how the catcalling men hide behind the excuse that such a comment is just a “chivalry tip,” a compliment which they believe entitles them to praise. Sanborn cuts across the floating melody and claps with an abrupt, sharp bass drop. The song becomes more enjoyable when the listener hears it from a progressive, defiant chant that props its heroine up above the indecent, intrusive men.

“Dreamy Bruises” is much more aggressive in its execution. It buzzes and hums atop a steady beat. Meath’s voice now reverberates and expands in the track similar to the work of MGMT with sleek synth and The XX’s bouncy percussion. Meath’s voice is like that of Annie Clark of St. Vincent in the track, haunting and hypnotic .

Proceeding it is “Could I Be,” a catchy track which eclipses club music of similar sound with its innovative shifts and intertwining of guitar and synth. The speaker questions her night out, but continues to fall into the dizzying, social fun in the city. Meath sings “could I be coming home with the waves rolling back,” which repeats with a pulsing beat while the synth ebbs and flows like the ocean. “Dress” imitates “Hey Mami” with the full bass drops, muted claps and Meath’s melodic voice. “H.S.K.T.” opens with a simple, repetitive lyric and offbeat which almost sounds like that of a 50’s tune. Meath sings “my head and shoulders / knees and toes” in a chant-like melody, making the synth gradually build up and collapse as a Latin pop beat and Meath’s voice fills up the empty space.

Their released single, “Coffee,” is metallic and sleek, cooly gliding along with a shaker and tinkling percussion. “Play it Right” starts with The Mountain Man’s folksy harmony, then Sanborn timely envelopes Meath’s voice, picking it up and soaring, multiplying its capacity and creating an entirely new, grandiose track that sets Sylvan Esso apart from many in their ability to utilize space and style to create a polished, robust sound unlike any other without even sounding like a combination, and much less a clash, of two genres.