Sylvan Esso faced a difficult task in following up their beloved 2014 debut, Sylvan Esso. After seamlessly blending folk and electronica in 10 clever and concise tracks, the duo risked becoming a one-trick pony. In What Now, they've amped up the energy and expanded their conceptual limits, and the result is a richer, more nuanced sophomore record.
Much of What Now reads like a love letter to music. Opening track Sound sees singer Amelia Meath's voice consumed by a single synthesiser as she chants, "All you'll feel is sound/and all you'll be is sound". The Glow is an uplifting ode to the symbiosis of music and adolescence, while Radio takes a comically searing look at the pressure to write radio-worthy hits, with scathing lines such as: "Don't you look good sucking American d***."
As on their debut, Sylvan Esso are at their strongest when they keep it sparse and simple. Die Young is a revelation - a bittersweet tale of love restoring meaning to life, with earth-shaking synths from producer Nick Sanborn that propel Meath's voice towards a dizzy euphoria. The same elation can be found later in Just Dancing, which tackles dating culture with an irresistible, pulsating beat.
The sudden slowing of pace in the final two songs may leave some asking the very question posed in the album's title, but perhaps that's Sylvan Esso's point. What Now could be read as a meta-commentary on pop, showing they're capable of both fulfilling expectations and criticising them. Whichever the case, the final product is a whole lot of fun.
Sylvan Esso, What Now
Loma Vista Recordings
A high-energy return that offers a searing commentary on pop music.