Electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso returns with their third LP, Free Love, an expression of both the joyous heights and dark depths that love can bring. What’s been clear, and remains so here, is that the duo of Nick Sanborn and Amelia Meath are proficient at creating a hell of a lot of sounds for only two people, thriving at expressing affect in a genre that often runs into the problem of feeling cold and emotionless. The group’s songwriting is similarly (and welcomingly) dense, as Meath prefers penning songs that are about a lot of things. Take for example “Ring,” a track which on the surface seems to be about the onset of tinnitus as a result of listening to your own music too loud through stage monitors on tour, but which upon deeper consideration blooms further ruminations, such as the idea of a long tour manifesting as a frustrating cycle of waking up, performing, hitting the road, and waking up again — “Highway, oh, highway / We play and play and play / Every day is another date.” Elsewhere, a song about a hot summer day turns to a song about unexpected attention on “Ferris Wheel” (“It’s the summer / got a lot to prove“), and “Frequency” uses a narrative about being in love with a radio DJ to reveal the details of Meath’s previously closeted sexual orientation: “Oh, now feel that sound / Rushin’ through the fields and flowers / Her voice comin’ through my dial / She’s the one, I swear to God.” These layers are not just refreshing in their complexity and honesty, but they succeed in breaking through the barriers of emotional range too common in pop music. Sylvan Esso makes music that feels distinctly important, each sonic choice informed by a clear intentionality. Free Love is a substantial entry into the group’s already-impressive catalog, and hopefully soon the songs here will be played live, how they’re meant to be heard, turning a massive crowd into a tightly-packed dancefloor once again. Despite the circumstances of 2020, Sylvan Esso’s energy clearly has not flagged, and so when that day of congregation returns, it seems certain that Sanborn and Meath will be there helping it happen.
Published as part of Ledger Line | Q3 2020 Issue – Part 1.