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ALBUM REVIEW: SYLVAN ESSO, ‘WHAT NOW’

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Sylvan Esso
What Now

Loma Vista Recordings


Hit play on the first track of Sylvan Esso’s What Now. You don’t need to adjust your speakers or check your input jack for dust. Like an old vinyl that you’re pulling out of its sleeve for the first time in years, the duo’s sophomore album pops and crackles to life in the opening track, “Sound.” Amelia Meath (vocals) and Nick Sanborn (production) return with 10 tracks that find a duality as complex pop songs, manipulating the formulaic nature of the genre to create infectious tunes that linger long after a first listen.

Following “Sound,” What Now blossoms into the long-awaited follow-up to the pair’s 2014 self-titled full length debut. While hanging on to the aspects of Sylvan Esso that charmed listeners a few years back, like looping melodies and masterfully produced metallic beats, What Now dives into more mature subject matter, saturated with confidence and self-awareness. On “Radio,” the album’s first single released in 2016, Sylvan Esso holds a mirror up to their own industry to express biting sentiments toward a single-obsessed radio culture. Written in a shifting societal landscape defined by political turmoil, these tracks don’t hold back in discussions of narcissism, creation, and consumption in the twenty-first century.

What Now’s lyrical intensity is offset by a buoyant production quality, bringing phrases like bubbles to the surface and letting them pop. Bright synth tones ripple across the surface, subtly disturbing the tension. Sanborn’s instrumentation and Meath’s vocals are layered together in each of What Now’s 10 tracks with extreme care and intention. There’s something very transient about listening to an album where every note, word, beat has a defined place within an arrangement and functions with specific purpose. What Now’s subtle hypnotic quality will have you bopping your head up and down without a second thought.

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