If you haven’t come across any of the recent singles by North Carolina’s Sylvan Esso, you’re in for a treat. If you have, well, you’re still in for a treat, because the band’s full-length debut is an unrelenting and fascinatingly beautiful work of music. The self-titled LP drops today on Partisan Records, and it has absolutely lived up to its hype.
“Hey Mami” kicks things off with a simply layered, hypnotic a cappella line by singer Amelia Meath, which rides calmly along on its own for nearly half of the song. Then suddenly, after a brief lull, we’re jarred awake by a burst of energy from Nick Sanborn’s subtly abrasive synthesizers. The result is nothing short of extraordinary, and though my judgment may be somewhat impaired by novelty, I wouldn’t be surprised if this track ended up on my short list of greatest album openers of all time.
The resulting sound is like the love-child of Regina Spektor and Amon Tobin, with immaculate, cheeky vocals surrounded by a tastefully-applied scaffold of grungy, unapologetic electronics. And the beauty of it all is that Sylvan Esso are far from being one-trick ponies. This album has enough variation in style and structure that you’ll find yourself thoroughly immersed, constantly wondering what might come next.
This is normally the part where I’d pick a few more songs to dissect in detail, but I’m not sure that would do justice to what makes this record so impressive. There are certainly a number of tracks that can stand alone as singles, such as “Wolf,” “Coffee,” and “Play it Right,” but Meath and Sanborn’s artistry really shines in the way that they’ve arranged the album as a whole. Between the parentheses that are the sparse vocals and hand-claps of “Hey Mami” and the mellow, understated harmonies of “Come Down,” they present a dynamic canvas of energy, lyrical themes, and emotions that stick with you long after your first listen.
Now, I know it’s not very interesting to read about how great something is, but I’ve genuinely found myself at a loss for anything negative to say about these guys. I suppose I could mention the fact that they seem to take themselves a little too seriously in their album cover photo, but this isn’t Pitchfork and we don’t do lifestyle reporting.
Sylvan Esso have managed to meld some wildly disparate elements in a way that I think will cause a much-needed stir in the indie electronic scene. In the meantime, I suggest you take a listen for yourself and see what all the damn fuss is about.