What Now, the second album by electropop duo Sylvan Esso, is a work of art. The duo, comprised of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn. The album starts off with the poignant “Sound” a beautiful harmony between human and machine where singer Amelia Meath’s voice overtakes extreme modulation until her voice is echoing in solitude. There is also a background sound that harkens back to the crackle of vinyl, giving a temporal twist to the song and album as a whole. It’s a past-present-future paradox that solves itself over and over again. “The Glow” then energizes the album with a vivacious beat that mimics a sun-drenched day, complete with laser effects and lyrics reminiscing of happiness, “In my headphones/ After school and slightly stoned/ I remember The Glow”.
What Now tackles what it means to be humans through exploration of emotions and through the melding of human and machine into a musical cyborg, complete with feeling and fresh beats. “Die Young” and “Radio” both carry a heaviness in the pulse of the music, which makes sense when you realize the songs are dealing with death, “I was gonna die young/ Now I gotta wait for you honey” and the new(ish) phenomenon of human reliance to technology, being a “slave to the radio”. “Kick Jump Twist” has a pulsating staccato spine to the song, with the tune emulating the lyrics, as well.
“Song” speaks to what it means to fall in love with a brightness that the beginning of the album sends you looking for, seeming to come to a resolution. However, “Just Dancing” collides and poisons the happiness of”Song”. With lyrics such as, “I’m just dancing/ I’m faking it before I even touch the skin/ It’s a rigged game/ And I know how to win it/ Shine the love light from my hand/It’s just pretend”, the love found in the previous song shows it’s true colors, where time brings all things to an end. “Signal” also comments on the inevitability of change over time. The penultimate “Slackjaw” is a brooding antithesis of the first track of the album creating a space for reflection before the final track, aptly named “Rewind”. Meath said in an interview with NPR that the track was about, “building your personality from media, and then slowly dismantling it to become an honest human and an amalgamation of your influences from family, friends, movies, music and idols.” It also adds to the temporal aspect of the album through the use of VHS’s and the physical act of rewinding and replaying a moment in time. After yet another listen of this gorgeous album, all I can ask is not what now, but what’s next for this formidable duo.
By: Bridget Lynch