Sylvan Esso – “Free Love” Review

Story posted September 30, 2020 in Arts & Entertainment by Scott Perdue.

Returning with their third studio album “Free Love,” the electronic duo Sylvan Esso seemingly reinvents itself with a focus on updating their soundscape construction.

Composed of duo Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn, Sylvan Esso has consistently attracted attention thanks to their unique electric alternative sound.

The group is arguably best known for their second album “What Now,” which had a fairly steady presence on the dance/electronic charts and was nominated for a Grammy in 2017.

Over the past few years, the duo has been consistently refining their sound and “Free Love” is no exception. Experimenting with their beats taking the forefront, this album develops a flow in which both the music and vocals have their own moment to steal the spotlight.

Opening with the light “What If,” the album arrives with a focus on lead singer Amelia Meath’s fey vocals. The soft beats on the track really help to ease the listener into the tone of the record.

The album then transitions into the effervescent “Ring.” Playing with some interesting tonal compositions, this song helps to lift Meath’s vocals by accompanying her voice with bright techno beats.

The following track “Ferris Wheel” allows the duo’s beats to take the lead and shifts the tone towards a darker composition. Allowing distorted tones to bleed into the arrangement, Meath’s vocals playback up to the pulsating techno jams.

The album keeps up its experimentation with dark tones on the blunt “Train” and the vibrating “Numb.”

Reminiscent of a modernized version of a classic song like “The Loco-Motion,” the track “Numb” outlines a new style of dance for the listener to learn, but with a darker ambiance attached to it.

The album then loses a bit of its traction because the sound on the album does not have much variety. While none of the tracks are particularly poorly executed, the sound is not broadened enough to really keep the listener engaged.

For instance, the tracks “Free” and “Frequency” feel far too reminiscent of the tracks that preceded them. The soft tones which these tracks are highlighted for are far more effective on the earlier tracks because they act as bridges into the more prominent techno beat tracks.

Having the album transition back to soft tones just as the album begins to pick up steam feels like a bit of a misstep.

However, the album does somewhat come full circle with the closing track “Make It Easy,” which seemingly acts as a foil to the opening track “What If.”

This closing track allows the beats to lead as Meath’s vocals slowly fade out the record. This seems like an intentional attempt to pull together all of the elements of soundscape construction that the band was attempting to accomplish earlier on the record.

Although the first few tracks on the record play with an interesting shift between the music and vocals of the duo taking the lead, the latter tracks do very little to hold the audience’s attention. Even though the record is fairly cohesive, the record lacks any true revisiting potential because the middle section of the record makes the listener feel very stagnant.

While the group does an admirable job of pushing the bounds of their sound, they need to keep reinventing their sound in order to keep the energy of the album evolving.

Sylvan Esso definitely has an interesting style, but they do not particularly create anything that is revolutionary.

“Free Love” is a great step for the band towards a far more inventive sound, but maybe next time the group will provide an album with a stronger flow for their listeners to engage with.

Rating: 6/10

Reviewer’s Favorite Songs: “Train” and “Numb”

Reviewer’s Least Favorite Song: “Free”

 

Scott Perdue is a senior majoring in secondary education. To contact him, email rsp5246@psu.edu.