Electro Indie Pop duo Sylvan Esso burst onto the scene via “Coffee,” an addictive, impressive textural tune about the best liquid humans have ever concocted. Or is it about the allure of physical interaction? Or both?
The brainchild of North Carolina-based singer Amelia Meath and producer/electronic programmer Nick Sanborn, “Coffee” appeared on the duo’s 2014 self-titled debut, which featured nine additional nuggets driven by Meath’s versatile voice and anchored by Sanborn’s idiosyncratic way with rhythm and other random sonic quirks.
Think a less dark-hued Portishead by way of Phantogram, with a little Lali Puna sprinkled in.
The pair’s long-awaited follow-up, What Now, finally surfaced this past April. The opening track, “Sound,” is uncommonly spare, with Meath’s barely perceptible mutterings backed by electronic squiggles. It’s a curious choice to kickoff Sylvan Esso’s anticipated return.
“Writing ‘Sound’ was one of the more relieving moments of creating What Now,” Meath recently wrote in a piece for NPR’s website. “Once it was finished we knew that it was the first track. It became a reassuring light post through what would become a rather intense and doubt-filled writing process.
“That opening sound is an old, half-broken Korg MS-20 being tuned by my voice. So much was wrapped up in that initial sound for us — the mission statement of our makeshift reverse-auto-tune, the combination of the two of us in a single sound, the idea of translating your humanity through a machine in the hopes of connecting with someone on the other side, it all feels contained in that moment.”
The duo shouldn’t be worried: What Now indeed connects, highlighted by “Radio,” a bright, sonically buoyant track leavened by lyrics that would suggest a darker horizon: “While the world melts on down, we’re so happy to be listening to our radio.”