North Carolina's synth-pop duo Sylvan Esso (producer and bassist Nick Sanborn
of acid-folk outfit Megafaun and vocalist Amelia Meath of female a-cappella trio Mountain Man) debuted with Sylvan Esso (Partisan, 2014).
Meath sings in a rather adolescent and rustic manner while Sanborn lays down a
cerebral comination of techno, funk, deep house and dubstep.
His electronic chatter is the real force behind the
skittering and mildly atonal Coffee, their most atmospheric song,
and quirky folk songs such as Play it Right.
It is not even clear who is singing, the singer or the warbling synth
in Dreamy Bruises, the singer or the petulant synth in
Uncatena. These are truly dialogue between two expressive voices,
the electronics being much more than a simple rhythm.
However, Meath proves to be a spectacular singer with the bluesy melisma HSKT, one of the most hypnotic dance songs of the decade with
Adele's Rolling in the Deep, and with
Hey Mami, her a-cappella showcase against a background of discreet beats.
(which stands for “head, shoulders, knees and toes”)
The marriage of electronics and voice comes through as
way more original and stimulating than the more hyped stereotyped
synth-pop of the likes of Future Islands.
Clearly, What Now (Loma Vista, 2017) holds back Sanborn's creativity in the
interest of selling the songs to a broader audience. Nonetheless,
there is enough movement to lift from mediocrity even the sunny ballad Die Young, the trite neosoul of Just Dancing, and the mellifluous samba of
and Kick Jump Twist is all about the percussive "voices" that duet and
wrestle with each other, and
Radio reprises the tribal exuberance of HSKT.
Meanwhile, the exotic Signal has a refrain of festive vocal harmonies over blazing polyrhythm;
Sound seems to mimic a vintage warped glitchy record of a-cappella folk music;
Song is the most straightforward throbbing poppy ditty of their career (how Francoise Hardy would sound in 2017).
At one end of the spectrum,
The Glow transforms a seismic electronic quasi-beat into a stomping hurricane, and, at the other end of the spectrum,
Slack Jaw is Meath's solo show of impeccable phrasing, exactly halfway
between blues and folk.
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