The indie pop duo Sylvan Esso’s self-titled, debut album is an under-appreciated gem in the niche genres of EDM, folk, and pop. The group, originally from Durham, North Carolina, released their first single in 2013, followed shortly by their first album, the eponymously named Sylvan Esso.
The album has 10 songs. The first track, "Hey Mami," has a simple clapping rhythm, contrasted with synthesizers and an acoustic voice. The intro track includes messages about cat-calling. The lead singer, Amelia Meath, takes a controversial view on the seemingly demeaning act- she claims that the term “mami” is actually a term of endearment and that she would rather hear that than something less tasteful, as she explains in the line, “Sooner or later the dudes at bodegas will hold their lips and own their shit.”
The following song is "Dreamy Bruises," which contrasts well to the folk, acoustic sounds of "Hey Mami." The song drifts from the group's usual formula of folk-acoustic song making to something more refreshingly electronic in nature. "Dreamy Bruises" guides the listener into the album, introducing these electronic themes, which later combine with the folk influences to create a wholesome and unique album experience.
The album continues developing its style in the third song, "Could I Be." The track sounds more like pop music than some of the other songs on the album. However, no track, including this one, ever veers too far from their folk and EDM (electronic dance music) influences. This song is quite calming, despite its dancey rhythm; an interesting contrast that continues through the rest of the album.
After dipping into the waters of dance music, Sylvan Esso reverts back to their folk roots and style used in "Hey Mami" in the fourth track called "Wolf." The slow rhythms and soft voice contrast nicely, and the electronic influences are continually heard. However, in this song, they are more subdued than the previous two tracks.
Sylvan Esso seems to flip-flop styles as the album continues- i.e., featuring slower songs, then veering back to pop. This rings incredibly true in the fifth song, "Dress," in which sounds very similar to "Could I Be." However, I would say that "Dress" is more hip-hop influenced than the rest of the album- there’s no better word to describe this song than to simply just say that it’s cool.
Sylvan Esso takes a bit of a left turn in "HSKT," or head, shoulders, knees, and toes. The song is incredibly dancey and has a very clear downbeat folk rhythm. I would actually venture to say that this song is my least favorite of the album; not that it's bad, it just ventures far from the group's usual style, which I adore so much.
The fourth to last song has a very special place in my heart. "Coffee" is the first song I heard of Sylvan Esso. The radio used to play it- that's how I discovered the band and this album. It inspired this article because I want people to enjoy all of Sylvan Esso’s work.
But, again, biasedly, I'd have to say that "Coffee" is my favorite song on the album. It is their breakout hit and most popular song to date, has a very somber dance rhythm, and is incredibly simple, following closely to the acoustic styling of most Sylvan Esso songs. And, while I've never seen the duo live, I much rather prefer to hear the live versions of this song. Also, the music video for the track is very quirky and interesting.
"Uncatena" is the next track on the song, and is a nice predecessor to "Coffee." I find myself feeling very nostalgic when I hear this song- it’s remarkably reflective. Very similar to "Wolf" stylistically, the song has soft electronic beats, with acoustic vocals.
If I had to choose a second favorite song on the record it would be "Play It Right," the second-to-last song on Sylvan Esso. This song is very hard to describe; it’s very deliberately constructed. It reminds me of a triumphant song that would play at the end of a teen indie film- very specific, I know, but if you listen you’ll know exactly what I'm talking about.
"Come Down" is the finale song. It’s one that I often forget about, actually. It’s incredibly somber sounding, almost sad, in a way. It discusses leaving home and having your parents “wash your hair” one last time before leaving. In that way, the song is very hard to describe in terms of tone. The feeling it invokes is very confusing, to me at least. The feeling of leaving things and people for a different place and different people- balancing the excitement of new and the sadness of the loss of old is confusing. It’s an odd feeling, and I think Sylvan Esso is deliberate in composing this track to invoke that feeling. It’s a very good ending song to the album.
The album as a whole is very simplistic. It’s very poetic in it’s approach to issues like love and loneliness. Sylvan Esso is an experience, and a short journey, in which one can see growth and development. This is metaphorized through the development of the songs. It goes without saying that I highly recommend this album, to any folk lovers, pop fanatics, or lovers of good music, great poetry, metaphor. ✉
article by: sawyer dixon
visual: impose magazine