New Music: Sylvan Esso


Sylvan Esso has announced a new album, No Rules Sandy (Loma Vista Recordings) which is due for release August 12th.

To whet our appetite, they have shared their new single Didn’t Care.

No Rules Sandy is said to be their most fearless and frenetic, intimate and enigmatic work yet. After surprising the audience of Newport Folk Festival recently in the US, with a live performance of the project in its entirety, Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn have marked the official launch and full embrace of their next, unpredictable chapter. Defined by a mentality of directness and disregard for preconceptions, Meath says that No Rules Sandyfeels like who we actually are. It just feels like us. We’re not trying to fit into the mould, just happily being our freak selves.’ 

They also share new single Didn’t Care, which traces the emotional journey from a humble meeting to life-changing love, and builds on recent singles Sunburn and Your Reality. Like much of No Rules Sandy, the song leaps from the framework of pop music into a wilder unknown, full of the loose, live-wire energy that inspired the album’s unforeseen creation.

Describing their first three albums as a trilogy that is now complete – following multiple GRAMMY nominations and countless other, crowning milestones – new album No Rules Sandy marks the beginning of a new era that is stranger and more cathartic than Meath and Sanborn have ever been. 

Sylvan Esso had never been a band who could make a record on short-term writing jags, let alone the best of their career. But at the beginning of 2022, they drove from their home of North Carolina to L.A., where they set up a makeshift studio in a small rental house and wrote a song. And then another. ‘Even if we weren’t feeling good, we would just sit down and try to make something,’ Meath says. ‘Pretty much every day that we did that, we got a song that we liked.’

Produced and written by Sylvan Esso, with additional recording taking place at their own studio in North Carolina, No Rules Sandy coalesces as an unbroken ribbon of sound, featuring drummer TJ Maiani, a string arrangement from Gabriel Kahane, and saxophone by Sam Gendel. No Rules Sandy’s most private moments come as interstitial diary entries, filling the spaces between tracks with voicemails from loved ones, birdsong from outside Betty’s, children and other life sounds. 

Some bands can create entire albums on short-term writing jags, but until now, Meath says, Sylvan Esso was not one of them. But that speed – and the resulting looseness and live-wire energy in their songs – is one of many things that feels like brand-new territory in No Rules Sandy, their fourth studio album

The album’s title is taken from a snippet of background vocal in Your Reality, a slippery, complexly layered track in which Meath sings what feels like a preoccupying question of the post-pandemic world: ‘Let me remember how to live my life/were there rules originally/or are we learning how to be?’ As in so many previous Sylvan Esso songs Meath’s voice is direct and dominant, but the No Rules Sandy background vocal is different – echoing and hypnotic, swooping underneath Sanborn’s percussive synth as well as a string arrangement from Gabriel Kahane. Sanborn says that vocal, and the song itself, became a reference point for the album,  ‘for how weird we could take it – how bare and strange something could be.’

Sunburn, the album’s debut single, and Didn’t Care also work as bridge songs, leaping from a pop music framework into the wilder unknown. With the crank of a bicycle bell popping in over the thumping bass track, Sunburn conjures a summer night’s dance party even as Meath’s locked-down vocal ‘My favourite way to ruin me’ suggests nothing is as carefree as it seems.

And while Didn’t Care exists fully as a poppy love song— the hand claps and talk of ‘shivers’ – it’s also a song about somebody not caring when they meet their love; the frizzled keyboard chords and insistent background vocals promise there’s no simple ending for this story, either.

Meath and Sanborn have described the dynamic of Sylvan Esso as an argument between them, her irresistible hooks pushing and pulling against his adventurous, sometimes unsettling synths. No Rules Sandy is a complete merge – pop and electronic music fusing into something new that constantly builds on itself. With this album, Meath says, ‘we went back to the classic formula, which is us trying to impress the other one.’ Take Echo Party, which opens with electronic warble around Meath’s voice as a simple beat behind her eventually yields to a deep synth wobble. There’s lightness and darkness tugging at each other, the ecstatic promise of a party ‘there’s a lot of people dancing downtown’ that you might not ever be able to leave ‘yeah we all fall down/but some stay where they got dropped.’ Sanborn’s synths nod to 90s electronic music throughout, but as with the full album, he says, ‘I want everything to feel like something you’ve heard before, but presented in a way you’ve never heard.’

Photo Credit: Brian Karlsson

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