Sylvan Esso’s New Album of Electro-pop Challenges All Expectations

On Sylvain Esso’s fourth studio album, No Rules Sandy, electronic vertigo quickly gains momentum and rarely stops. “How can you move me when everything is moving,” Amelia Mies asks on the opening track “Moving,” with hissing sounds that keep things spinning, scurrying beats, and swooping octaves. Blip, think quietly over the hiss of stereo panning. It’s a whirlwind start to an album that celebrates new unrestrained movement.

Sylvan Esso — the duo of Meath and her husband Nick Sanborn — has created its own niche in electropop. A duo that deftly uses electronic dance music hardware and software to warp standard patterns across genres. This technology makes it easy to repeat, but Sylvan Esso has a better idea.

“No Rules Sandy” is the pendulum-swinging sequel to the restrained, wistful album “Free Love,” released in September 2020 at a time when pandemic stagnation and isolation were deepening. A song that was once taken for granted and longed for as it should be, “Shake off the numbness.”

Joy is back within reach with a new song from Sylvan Esso. “Sunburn” Celebrate excess luxury—too much sun, too much sweets—on a track punctuated by happy samples of bicycle bells. “Didn’t bother” Indulge in unexpected romance with a euphoric blend of Afro-pop guitars, Balkan choral harmonies and bubbly synthesizers.

Silane Esso has not been isolated during the pandemic. In March 2021, he gathered fellow musicians around his home base in North Carolina to completely rework his electronic track for “Free Love” to produce a hand-played full band livestream his set. “with love” — Evokes concert camaraderie. In September, the duo returned to tour. Still, “No Rules Sandy” sounds like Sylvain Esso had plenty of time to goof off in the studio.

The new album has a determination to change any parameter at any time, with a whimsical feel to it as you try anything and turn the knobs.The slogan of the album is refrain “Your Reality” Syncopated obscure synth chords mesh with a sighing string quartet on the track: “Surreal but free—it’s your reality.”

Typical electronic pop and dance music comforts through predictability. For example, a clear and reliable beat on the bottom, a crisp verse-chorus-verse depiction of a song, or his measured four-bar build-up that leads to the expected outcome in a dance track. Sylvan Esso challenges all these expectations. In “No Rules Sandy” the beat appears, breaks, then suddenly disappears and comes back. Vocals are intimate and naturalistic one moment, but glitchy or multitracked or pitch-shifted the next.

On “Echo Party,” Mies sings about “a lot of people dancing downtown,” with hi-hats and piano chords reminiscent of disco and house music. But the track cleverly refuses to settle into a club groove. A sliding bassline slows down to trip (or out) things. The beat then drops completely, leaving Mies on the looped a cappella syllable “by, by, by.”

Fine-tuning will follow. “Look at Me” deals with the attention economy. Rhythm is defined almost entirely from above by poking, slapping, booping and clicking off-beats. “Cloud Walker” flickers in 4/4 and 3/4 sensations and is subdivided by breakbeat fibrillating cymbals. Mies’ voice is overdubbed into chords as she sings about fear and acceptance. “

As that line suggests, “No Rules Sandy” is upbeat, but forgettable. “Everybody’s listening with me/Alarm, alarm, alarm,” Mies sings on “Alarm” near the album’s end. It’s clear that Sylvan Esso had fun in the studio, but the music reflects just how volatile his 2020s are. Hissing, zinging, shimmering, and morphing sounds all promise us that we’ll have a way to deal with whatever comes our way.

The final track of the album switches again. “Coming Back to You” is a simple, folky ballad strummed by an acoustic guitar (although Sylvan Esso can’t help adding his harmonies on filtered vocals). It promises homecoming, connection and refuge. After all the movements, the song provides a place to rest.

Sylvain Esso
“No Rule Sandy”
(Loma Vista)

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