Sunday, 4 May 2014

Album of the Week #22

Artist: Sylvan Esso
Album: Sylvan Esso
Year: 2014
Label: Partisan Records

Musical side projects are famously hit and miss. For every Gorillaz, for instance, there's a SuperHeavy. With so many influences, styles and egos going into the melting pot it can be hard to distil it all into a cohesive listen. But North Carolina duo Sylvan Esso, made up of Mountain Man's Amelia Meath and Megafaun's Nick Sanborn, have come together to produce a debut album that, for the most part, is a sparkling effort.

That's not to say the record is perfection. When I first heard album opener 'Hey Mami' earlier this year, I must admit that it didn't quite do it for me. Meath's sleazy vocals seem like they were born out of a all-night jazz club; you can almost smell the rum and coke in them. Yet the track combines this with harsh, heavy electronic beats from Sanborn to create a tuneful but ultimately confused, jumbled sound.

'Hey Mami' stalls and splutters its way forward, but after the duo soon start moving through the gears. 'Wolf' is the first sign of what they're capable of: the sparse production of Sanborn this time complementing the vocals of Meath. But things really get going with the mid-album double-whammy of 'H.S.K.T.' and 'Coffee.' The former steps up the tempo a notch as Meath is guided along by the deftly-arranged synths and sounds of Sanborn as he expertly controls the anticipation throughout the song, hinting and hinting before eventually heading down a glorious drop in the finale. It's made for the 4am dancefloor.

If 'H.S.K.T.' was enough to floor you, then 'Coffee' gently eases you up again, more swirling synths and blissed-out vocals in perfect tandem. Meath's vocal refrain of Get up/Get down is beckoning you into their world, fast-forwarding a few hours from the highs of the previous song and transporting you to the 6am sunrise, where that horrible realisation that the night's over hits you like a train. Here though, you get a sense of that atmosphere without the hangover and massive hole in your wallet. It's like a mini-concept album.

By now, their forward momentum is unrelenting. 'Uncantena' and 'Play It Right' offer a similar counterpoint to each other, with the latter meshing those heavier sounds and lighter vocals so much more successfully than early on in the album. In  many ways, you can hear the two artists coming to terms with each other and growing together as you listen to Sylvan Esso, which is a journey you're invited to. And when the two are in tandem, it's irresistible.

Sylvan Esso is released on June 2nd. Click here to listen to a few tracks from the album...

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