Artist: Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso is a collaborative ‘super-duo’, consisting of Amealia Meath and Nick Sanborn. Meath is best known as one of three vocalists in Mountain Man, a group that was heavily influenced by early traditional folk, often singing acapella. Sanborn played guitar in Megafaun, but explored sample/synth-based music in his solo project, Made Of Oak. While both found some success in these projects, Sylvan Esso feels much more like a full-fledged band than the side project of two overworked musicians. Their debut self-titled album arrives May 13th on Partisan Records.
As is to be expected from their previous efforts, Sylvan Esso is a fascinating blend of Meath’s rural vocal stylings and Sanborn’s hip-hop/electro influenced production. On “Dress”, trap-influenced kick bass and toms carry the beat, with a pitched down vocal loop floating in the background. For most of the record, the production is undeniably influenced by southern rap – other signifiers include divided hi-hats, and an overall minimalism that persists throughout. Sanborn does a wonderful job with the minutia of each instrument on the album – it’s a tip of the hat to his production heroes without explicitly aping their style.
In addition to Sanborn’s efforts, what really gives Sylvan Esso the upper hand is Meath’s vocal acrobatics. Her sense of melody is unconventional, but manages to surprise in different ways on each track. From the repetitive, playground-esque yelps of “H.S.K.T.” to the highlife harmonies on opener “Hey Mami”, it seems that Meath can borrow from a myriad of genres with ease. So too can she twist and make them her own, an impressive feat in itself. Look no further than the grit of “Dreamy Bruises” or the first 20 seconds of “Play It Right” to grasp the full range of Meath and Sylvan Esso, as they are the antithesis to the earlier tracks.
A press release for the record notes that “before this project, (Meath and Sanborn) felt that their solo endeavors often felt short of it, as if they were lacking a crucial component”. In Sylvan Esso, the duo have found a common middle ground in two seemingly unrelated genres. The album exists in a space of its own, where dirty south anthems are just as comfortable in clubs as they are in the remote corners of the Appalachians. With this fantastic debut, Sylvan Esso have created some of the biggest hooks of the year to date.