I remember the first night I ever saw Sylvan Esso perform live. It was here in NYC, at Webster Hall – they were the opening act for Volcano Choir. My friend Meghan leaned over and said to be “They’re going to be big one day…” and here we are. That day has come and gone, having seen the electronic pop duo of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn play infinitely bigger stages here and abroad. Going from packing themselves and all of their gear into a small red Prius, complete with “SORRY” license plate, at this point in their career, they have absolutely nothing to be sorry about. Having given us a gem of an album with their debut self-titled effort, they have returned with another LP of catchy tunes called What Now? that I’ve been anticipating since I last saw them rock the stage at Eaux Claires Festival 2 years ago.
This time, they’ve returned to claim the stage at Brooklyn Steel, one of the newest venues in the city. Armed with an inventive lighting rig, and Sanborn’s flight cases with “F The NCGOP” scrawled across the front, I knew the crowd would be in for a treat. Always down to stir the proverbial pot, Meath danced and shimmied her way across the stage like a woman with both absolutely no fucks to give and everything to prove. Her voice was immaculate during all of this, and I instantly understood how she was effortlessly able to pen and deliver lines like “don’t you look good sucking American dick…” on the song “Radio.”
Acting as sort of a tether to the world, Sanborn’s presence onstage, while a steady constant, was also sight to behold when he’d burst from behind his rig to flail his arms at the crowd or his constant bobbing up and down. Watching him twist knobs, push levers and keep everything progressing at an even pace was captivating. The chemistry between the two onstage is electric and palpable. They played off each other like magnets, flipping back and forth between magnetism and propulsion at points during the night. That ebb and flow of energy infected the entire room, as bodies jumped and lurched in time with the music one moment, and then calmly swayed in place the next. All of this in tandem with the ever-changing configuration of the lighting made it a dynamic show from start to finish.
One of my favorite songs on the record, “Just Dancing” was just as incredible live as I knew it would be, but admittedly, was a bit grueling for Amelia to deliver live, which resulted in delving into the down-tempo “Rewind.” Older songs like “Play It Right” and “Hey Mami” received some of the biggest reactions of the night, with hands, arms and mobile phones immediately lifting into the air.
Overall, the driving force between the two is the music. Nick Sanborn has been one of my favorite producers for a while now, and while my initial exposure to his work was through Sylvan Esso, I had been a fan of his work with Megafaun in years past, and more recently his production work on his solo debut EP, Penumbra. The overarching element in Sanborn’s work is a human, soulful element in each of his instrumental and production decisions. It makes it easy to connect to the soul of each song and insert yourself into the deeper feeling of it, regardless of which walk of life you inhabit. For example, in the aforementioned “Just Dancing,” how the undercurrent of the bass line mimics the rhythm of a heartbeat, and how that encapsulates a part of the human experience. Also, on another favorite of mine, “Slack Jaw,” there’s a melodic pulse in the background that goes on for the entirety of the song, and it reminds me of how you might envision someone you enjoy spending time with, and flashes of those moments you find yourselves together enter your mind at different times. While Amelia’s words sound content, the song itself is on the melancholy end of the spectrum.
Who knew a slew of conversations on Twitter over a few years and a meeting over a grilled cheese sandwich in Wisconsin years ago would fuel the collaboration of these two talents into one of the fastest rising electronic pop groups out there. I’m grateful for this chance encounter.
Article: Lesley Keller