Album Review: Free Love by Sylvan Esso

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Sylvan Esso is an electronic pop duo from North Carolina. The duo consists of singer and songwriter Amelia Meath and the producer, Nick Sanborn. Before their studio album this year, they had an eventful year by working with artists such as Real Estate and Local Natives. They collaborated on the track Paper Cup, which I reviewed the track on the Real Estate album. I also love their ‘remix’ of the track Dark Days by Local Natives. Now, they have returned with their third studio album, Free Love.

The first track from the album is What If. I definitely wasn’t expecting this, but it’s pretty minimalist and simple in nature. It’s also the shortest track on the album, just clocking in under one and a half minutes in length. You have a few electronic notes sprinkled in, which kind of sound like a synth. You also have some vocal layer effects thrown in over Amelia’s voice. It does grow a little bit in intensity towards the end of the track, but it just leaves me wanting more.

Ring starts out pretty quiet in nature too. You have Amelia’s voice opening up with a simple drum kit in the background. However, it is more open compared to the last track and you do get the full effect of the synth on this track. This track has somewhat different meanings for both of the artists. Amelia says this is more about tinnitus, which is about the ringing sound some people hear. Nick talks about how this track is more of the next step from their track Die Young.

Ferris Wheel opens up similarly with the strange drum beats and synth notes at the beginning of the track. You do have Amelia’s voice come in as well, and more of a layer of vocals once the chorus of the track opens up. It does have a strange groove to it, but I guess I’m just not feeling it in the first half. Once you have the more instrumental section open up later, it does become more enjoyable, but I’m really not finding much to enjoy from this track. On this track, she talks about finding your power and finding out how to use it. She also talks about how this is supposed to be a catchy summer time track.

Train really focuses on the short staccato like synth notes. This track definitely builds up over time, especially with things coming in one by one. Starts out with the synth, then you get vocals, claps, and it keeps going on. You do have Amelia and Nick talking at the beginning of the track to make it a little more rough and personable in nature. There’s some small bits and pieces I like from this track, but it definitely has to be the synth part that keeps on throughout the track.

After that, we have Numb which is the longest track on the album. It clocks in just under four and a half minutes in length which is surprising since most of the tracks are under three minutes. Again, you can admire the synths used and layered over the course of this track. Just not feeling this track as much as the previous track. I’m not sure if the voice was looped over and over again, but with her saying ‘shake’ repeatedly, it just sounds lazy and a bit lackluster. Also, the slow introduction made it a bit harder to get into this track. I do, however, re-visit this track and it is growing on me.

Free is supposed to be the center piece of this entire record. It was recorded in a single take which was surprising since it’s very raw in nature, and you can really feel the emotion in Amelia’s voice. However, as I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of several of these tracks. It’s mostly just a piano/synth playing in the background for the entire track. Besides not being a huge fan of the track, the message talks about the feeling of being loved, and loving others as well.

Frequency is definitely my favorite on this album. It starts out with some chopped vocal sample bits here and there. While I wish it didn’t cut out the sample bits, I do enjoy the sound they are producing on this track. However, based on the title of the track, I get why it is chopped up. Since they wanted a story around this track, it’s about a girl who lives in a flat, farm-like area. She also has a radio and is amazed by this DJ she is listening to.

Runaway definitely feels adventurous in nature. It definitely has a more upbeat and anxious feeling to the track. While it may seem happy and fun in nature, the message they present to the track is the exact opposite. They talk about how they started writing this track around the time of the Las Vegas concert shooting and the Ariana Grande concert attack. It talks about how they’re afraid of not knowing if someone is a shooter or not, as well as the constant anxiety and paranoia that comes with it.

Rooftop Dancing brings the feeling of the album back down. It is a bit different from the other tracks since they are using vocal tidbits as a back beat. Despite it’s laid back style, I honestly don’t get the interlude part with the recorded beats. It seems a bit cheesy and unnecessary with the tone of the track and the album so far. Even with the summer time feeling and themes pointed throughout the track, it just doesn’t add any value to the track.

The last and final track of the album is Make It Easy. It is a bit similar to how the album opened up so it’s unique to see the album end the same way as it began. You have the electronic notes as well as Amelia’s voice with some vocal effects. Nick says that the beat from this track references the track Could I Be from their first album. Again, I really don’t like the repeated lyrics towards the end of the track where she repeats ‘It’s playin’ now’.

I really wanted to like this album and I gave it several listens to like it, but it just doesn’t compare to some of their early work. I don’t know why I didn’t enjoy this album as much as others, but it’s just not my cup of tea. To end this on a positive note, I do recommend their other two studio albums!

Overall Rating: 5/10

Favorite Tracks: Ring, Train, Numb, Frequency

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