There’s a growing trend in the electronic indie world these days: male producer teams up with female singer to create fun indie-pop dance music. It’s a simple, fun formula. It works. Look no further than the success of Phantogram, who just played the main stage at Lollapalooza for the zillionth time, or rising stars Purity Ring and Marion Hill, fresh off tours of their own. These are just a few examples that quickly come to mind, and undoubtedly hundreds of aspiring girl/guy duos cranking out Soundcloud hits in their respective dorm rooms as I type this right now. Of course, with ubiquity comes the need to stand out. Frankly, a hot chick with a microphone and a guy messing with turntable knobs doesn’t lead to instant success these days. A shtick is needed, something has to just be different. And my favorite duo at the moment, Sylvan Esso, has found a way to do just that.
In the grand scheme of things, Sylvan Esso as a group is still fairly new to the scene. The duo’s first release dropped back in 2013. Four years later, the two are trekking across the world playing big shows left and right. There’s a few reasons that set them apart from like-minded groups trying to do the same thing. To start – these two didn’t start in a basement or dorm room, but were rather accomplished musicians before forming the group. Singer Amelia Meath was the de facto leader of popular all-girl folk group Mountain Man. Mountain Man enjoyed success and toured widely, playing with Feist on a US tour and other groups like The Decemberists. Producer/instrumentalist Nick Sanborn bounced during that time, playing bass for Megafun and leading his own project “Made of Oak.” Eventually the two crossed paths and linked up to remix Melia’s single “Play It Right” at her request. After finding instant chemistry, the duo settled down in Durham, North Carolina, of all places, where they began crafting jams under the name Sylvan Esso.
Just two albums deep into what should be a fruitful career, the talent existing between these two has been undeniable. Amelia’s siren-like voice still carries a hint of the Appalachian folk found in Mountain Man, which gives their sound a matchless style when paired with Sandborn’s quirky electronic beats. Spin magazine described recently-released sophomore album What Now as “the band questioning the confines of electronic pop music, deconstructing traditional notions of beat and melody with intricacy and ingenuity.” That pretty much nails it right on the head – Sylvan Esso can be weird and stripped down, but still a really fun and enjoyable listen. While usually not the case, the group even dives into deeper lyrical content at times. Recent single “Radio” openly pans the traditional model of “selling out” for airplay. Sylvan Esso has carved out a unique electric-pop tone which allows them to stand out in a crowded genre. The group is currently touring in support of What Now, and after seeing them tear up the Grove at Lollapalooza a couple weeks ago, I highly suggest everyone checks them out.
Suggested Tracks: “Die Young” “Hey Mami” “Coffee” “Uncatena”
Oddities: Singer Amelia Meath’s father is Jonathean Meath, famous television producer and professional Santa Claus impersonator. Seriously.
Tour dates can be found on their website here.
Photo Credits – NPR