One early evening in June 2014, my partner and I were in the mood to hear some live music. We luckily happened upon a Tune Yards concert at the Fonda Theater with opening act Slyvan Esso. As impressive as the Tune Yards were, the CD I purchased that night was Slyvan Esso’s and I haven’t stopped listening to it since. You may have caught the pair performing their single “Coffee” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon or maybe you’re plugged into the folk-pop, electro-folk, indie music scene and you’ve already witnessed the blowing up of this dynamic duo. But for those of you unfamiliar with Slyvan Esso, their music is anything but yesterday’s news. Ameila Meath’s songbird-soprano soars through Nick Sanborn’s grid of unexpected electrified beats, giving their combined efforts a Woodstock meets Daft Punk kind of quality.
This 10-track self-titled album created in Sanborn’s apartment in Durham, North Carolina (my home town) comprises a balanced collection of upbeat and low-key songs. For instance, in the song “Play It Right,” poetic verses like “Oh if my ears, were as big as the ocean I could hear, all of your devotion I would be, more than a small human with her head, pressed against your mouth in motion,” brightly ring out over a high-pulsating sound that builds on a loop until the chorus. Then Meath tells us to “play it right,” and some of the most satisfying percussive sounds I’ve heard in a hook punctuate her heeding. The two also incorporate musical-nods to Tommy James’s “Hanky Panky,” and childhood favorite “Head, Shoulder, Knees and Toes,” but mix and re-imagine them for the adult twerker in all of us. They cool us down with metaphoric songs like “Wolf” about the modern-day playboy archetype and his irresistible howl to women (“ahooooooo”), while breaking our hearts with “Come Down,” a haunting acapella lullaby in three-part harmony.
The tonal purity of Meath’s voice reminds me of Joni Mitchell and Leslie Feist (who coincidently Meath toured with for over a year). The open vowel sounds and soft treble juxtaposes the muscularity of Sanborn’s heavy symphonic bangs. With the amount of some-what-affordable Maschine production systems, freeware synthesizers, and computer programs like Pro Tools or Logic out there, it seems like any geek with a MacbookPro could be the next DJ Quik or Premier. But of course, it’s not that simple. It takes an ear with talent for hearing the musicality in everyday sounds and the skill-set to engineer those sounds into actual music—something Sanborn seems to have in spades. Watching the two perform on stage is like watching an invisible ball being passed between two mimes. With only a mic and a computer between them, they work off of each other. Meath undulates her body—quickly shifting her legs and arms while Sanborn stands stationary smiling with his mouth wide open—thrusting his upper body forward keeping time with the music.
Get ready for a 38-minute debut album of introspective melodic tunes that tell a story, head-bobbing dance hits, and sick beats. I can’t wait for what comes next for SE.