An ensemble folk player becomes a star on Sylvan Esso’s debut
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An ensemble folk player becomes a star on Sylvan Esso’s debut

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Sylvan Esso

Album: Sylvan Esso
Label: Partisan

As part of the a cappella trio Mountain Man, Amelia Randall Meath saw a debut inspired by Appalachian folk music parlay to a backing role for Feist on her Metals tour. Appropriately, Real Estate’s Alex Bleeker recently likened Meath to the Nintendo Game Genie, meaning she could be plugged into any band and fill their needs, also demonstrated in work with Bleeker’s Freaks and one-off project BOBBY. But it is on Sylvan Esso, the self-titled debut for duo Meath and Nick Sanborn of Megafaun, that she finally lands front-and-center, rising to the occasion.

On the album, Meath’s voice displays a dry fragility that resembles that of her old boss, but Meath’s timeless melodies and penchant for antiquated lyrical references keep the Feist comparisons to a minimum. Sanborn adorns her voice with electronic textures and synth leads that run the gamut of sonic reference points, serving the songs first and foremost, be it borrowing from house or U.K. garage or industrial palettes. It’s not the most sophisticated or original take, but the end result is tasteful and easy to digest, a crowd-pleaser at its core.

Though it would be premature to exalt Sylvan Esso to the level of comparable projects The XX or Purity Ring, the group’s best song, “Uncatena,” catches the North Carolina pair with a looseness not seen in those aforementioned groups. Building on an intriguing, off-kilter chorus, Meath transitions into a coda that sounds inspired and sudden. A natural chemistry lets the pair compete for their audience’s attention, Sanborn’s passionate keys betraying the fact a human is playing them. It’s synthpop for people who like folk, emphasizing the human rather than the robotic.

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