Sylvan Esso ask What Now
Tomorrow Sylvan Esso will release their sophomore follow up to their self-titled 2014 debut (my record of the year for that year). The duo comprised of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn have toured tirelessly over the past few years and that gauntlet of shows has left them a much stronger band. The new record contains a confidence and texture that was just beginning to form on their first record. In this space the band work through issues that run the gamut from the pressure of following one’s successes to the nature of music as a medium. All of these are accompanied by their characteristic progression of hooks. I recently spoke with the duo about some of these issues.
Initially the album begin in isolation with pair moving out to a studio in Wisconsin that was isolated in a pocket of beautiful winter landscape but this didn’t work well for Meath, “We were going to finish the record in three months and we're going to go to Wisconsin in the dead of winter to a beautiful studio completely isolated where the nearest town is like twenty minutes away…We got there and I was just miserable…It was the worst idea…the way you write changes all the time and sometimes you do just have to try something. Everyone talks about isolation being a great idea. Not for me. You can't write pop music in wintertime when there's nobody around, pop music is about sex.” What did come out of this time was a further solidification of the duo’s aesthetic approach inherited at least partially from They Might be Giants. Sanborn explained, “They Might be Giants are Heavy on brevity but they're very resourceful and economical with what they do end up keeping in a song. I think that's something that we both respond to really strongly and have in our work. It's also like, that's kind of one half of it but the other half is just like with “Die Young” for example, I think that's the version of that song that it ultimately wanted to be. I think when you first wrote that song, I think the version it ended up as is the truest version of the song…do you know what I mean? I think we just followed a thread of what that song wanted to be.”
What Now begins with the track “Sound,” which Meath describes as the signpost for the record. Part of this project is a reversal of accepted practice. When we generally think of the digital driving the human on their new record it is the human that is in control. Sanborn explains,
It's actually Amelia's voice being run through this old synthesizer called a Korg MS-20 and one of the cool things about this old synthesizer is you can plug audio into it and it had this circuit in it that would hard sync the oscillators into the audio that you were feeding through it so the minute we plugged that in and it was like this machine started singing.. (Amelia Interjected, “and I was the thing that was making it sing.”) Right, the minute that came out it opened up a bunch of doors about how to think about what our band was and the ways we wanted our record to feel and our songs to feel…Yeah, because it just said so many things to us, outside of the calling card using the opposite of auto tune instead of like having Amelia's voice tune the synth instead of the other way around. I think a big theme on the record…was reaching through the noise and digital ether to find something real, or how to present yourself because there's all this translation going on through that stuff and so this really felt like a translation of Amelia's voice. You had to listen through the wires to find the signal there. That really spoke to me I think. I could talk about that sounds for a long time but we want every piece of it to have that amount of intent.
Sanborn’s intent is combined with Meath’s approach to her songwriting, “I'm really, really personal. I have a very blunt mother and because of that I'm really good at being honest. Also, I don't write songs from the first perspective even though they are actually from the first perspective but I'll never admit it. They're all amalgamations of different things that have happened to me but are also not me… it's always the worst. I couldn't write a song about how great I could be.” Meath’s frank assessments of culture mesh perfectly with Sanborn’s production style to produce a sound that is uniquely Sylvan Esso. I strongly recommend picking up their new record which is certainly one of the best of this year. Make sure to catch them live with they roll into the Civic in September. Look out for more of this interview then. In the mean time What Now is out tomorrow.
Fest Night Show Picks
Sinkane tonight at Gasa Gasa
If you missed my interview with Ahmed Gallab last week read it here. Sinkane will play tonight at Gasa Gasa. This will be one of the best shows of the Jazz Fest season. See you there.
The Meters at the Orpheum
On Saturday night The Meters will return to the Orpheum. This show was my favorite Jazz Fest evening show last year. The Meters and the Orpheum are a natural match. There is space for their sound to breathe within the theater’s walls. If last year was any indication you can expect a fair number of special guests and surprises. This is the way to hear the Meters.
Instruments a Comin’ at Tips
The annual Tipitina’s Foundation fundraiser for musical education happens on Monday with the outdoor festivities starting at 6pm. This is a wonderful party full of insane performances. I recommend taking the VIP ticket on this one as the food and drinks are almost as good as Galactic’s never ending parade of talent. This is consistently my favorite Jazz Fest event.
The New Pornographers and Waxahatchee at Tips
On Wednesday night Waxahatchee will open for the New Pornographers at Tipitina’s. This is an excellent pairing of talents. The New Pornographers have just dropped an excellent new record and Waxahatchee has one ready for release soon. Expect new tunes mixed in with the older favorites. This is the window to the second weekend of Fest.
To Listen This Week
- New song from Gorillaz via Youtube
- Great new track from Polica via Soundcloud
- New track from Frank Ocean via CoS