Sylvan Esso Lets Us Know “What Now”

by Ayanna Jacobs-El

I first heard electropop duo Sylvan Esso through NPR music’s top songs of 2014 playlist. Their song “Coffee” really caught my attention with its melancholy production, dark synths, and tender and soothing vocals. After I heard this song I looked up the duo and learned that they are from Durham, North Carolina and include singer-songwriter Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn. I then went on to listen to their entire debut album and heard some of their other great songs like “Hey Mami,” “Dress,” and the playful “H.S.K.T.” By then, I was a fan of the group and their eclectic take on electronic music.

At the end of April Sylvan Esso released their second album entitled What Now. Overall, the album is a continuation of their signature sound, but the duo seems to have grown and created a musical work that is more cohesive than before. The 10-song album starts out with the meditative and repetitive song entitled “Sound.” At first, the lyrics aren’t discernible but eventually Meath’s voice emerges with harmonies, effected vocals, and a sparse bass line.

The second track on the album is the upbeat tune called “The Glow.” This song has a pop-rock sound and according to Meath “it’s a song about being lifted off the earth by music.” The song features bubbly synth elements in the chorus that help give that feeling of being elevated.

One of my favorite songs off of the album is “Die Young.” I like the 80s synths that come in during the chorus and how stark the contrast is between the more minimal production of the verses. The lyrics state how the singer wanted to die young without having the chance to fall in love. Ultimately, her plan is changed when she falls in love and decides to remain alive so they can live life with her object of affection, but she must also deal with the depression that is a part of her life.

Another great track is “Radio” which features a pulsating synth bass and 80s inspired synth lead. The song discusses how to get mainstream radio play you have to conform to such rigid and stifling standards that leaves no place for originality or music of substance.

Kick Jump Twist” is a unique song that features quirky and choppy production. According to Meath, “This is about jumping through hoops trying to get people to love you.” I like how disjointed the song feels and I think it perfectly captures this idea of having to jump through hoops to please others. The stress and uncertainty of trying to do that is definitely portrayed in Sanborn’s production.

Artists like Sylvan Esso are refreshing in a music industry that is dominated by formulaic pop music that leaves your brain feeling numb. Their fearlessness to try new things and speak their minds about subjects that matter makes them a standout group in my opinion. Be sure to check out What Now, and also follow Sylvan Esso on their social media accounts to hear about their upcoming shows and new releases!


About the Author

Ayanna Jacobs-El
Ayanna Jacobs-El is a composer, producer, songwriter, singer, alto and baritone saxophonist, and DJ dual majoring in Contemporary Writing and Production and Professional Music with a minor in Writing for TV and New Media. You can learn more about Ayanna and hear her music by visiting