The Sound of Social Conscience

Sylvan Esso SUPPLIED

The sophomore album from the electropop duo is dark and dancey in equal measure.

Sylvan Esso/ What Now

Sylvan Esso, in case you’re not already aware, is an American electropop duo made up of singer-songwriter Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sandborn. Both hailing from folk backgrounds (Mountain Man and Megafaun respectively), together they make shadowy, danceable music deftly cloaked in a hook-laden pop disguise — think a sonic amalgam between indie-pop duo Phantogram and Swedish pop star Robyn. Released in 2014, their self-titled debut peaked at number 39 on the US Billboard 200 Chart, spawning a slew of catchy gems including Hey Mami, Coffee, Play It Right, Uncatena and H.S.K.T.

Now, almost halfway into 2017, the pair return with their studio follow-up What Now. Preceded by the release of singles Radio and Kick Jump Twist late last year, the record finds Meath and Sandborn delivering a more hectic sound complete with acerbic sarcasm and witty humour cranked up to 11 in the songwriting department.

Take, for example, catchy lead single Radio whose lyrics are about how the band have become “slave to the radio” and how fame and success come with the pressure of having to appease the mainstream music scene. “Singing I’ve got the moves of a TV queen/ Folk girl hero in a magazine/ Faking the truth in a new pop song/ Don’t you wanna sing along?” Meath intones, taunting the industry.

Similarly, the wonky synths-driven Kick Jump Twist talks about the struggle of being in the limelight and having to always perform for the camera to garner public adoration (“Sweating through their sequins/ Oh but they look good, yeah/ Mascara dripping slow down/ Oh, but they’re turning your way”). Die Young, on the other hand, is a love song with a macabre twist. Here, Meath bemoans the fact that her new love interest has thwarted her plans to join the 27 club (“I had it all planned out before you met me/ Was gonna leave early and so swiftly/ Maybe in a fire or crash off a ravine … I was gonna die young/ Now I gotta wait for you, honey”).

Elsewhere, there’s a winking commentary on how Tinder dating can contribute to and foster a false sense of oneself (Just Dancing). Closing out the set with the duo’s trademark blend of boisterous percussion and sparse synth chords, Rewind further highlights how we often build our personality based on what we consume in the media (“Bailing in the red, blue, green/ I’m learning how to think/ Learning how to shake that thing … Those friends you’re making on the screen/ They teach you how to be”).

Unlike its predecessor, What Now thrives in maximalism and packs more punch when it comes to dispensing social and cultural commentary. From the pitfalls of fame to the trappings of modern society, Meath provides us with plenty of wry, occasionally comedic observations. These are then matched by Sandborn’s production savoir-faire, a delectable thing tailored made for a dance floor.

THE PLAYLIST

Summer Dress (feat. Aom Telex Telexs)/ D-OK

D-OK is the third single taken from Summer Dress’s sophomore outing Serious Music. Set against hazy synths, guitars and horn, the song sees the Bangkok quintet eschewing their breezy indie-pop sound for a spot of vaporwave. Telex Telexs’ singer Sorrarat “Aom” Limpanopparat lends her hazy vocals to the set, singing from the perspective of a love-starved girl who doesn’t seem to want to settle down with any of her suitors.

Lana Del Rey/ Lust for Life

Lust for Life, the title track from Lana Del Rey’s forthcoming fifth studio album, marks the third collaboration between herself and The Weeknd following the two tracks that appeared on the latter’s last LP, Starboy. On this slow-burning duet, the songstress of tragedy love and the noir RB stalwart take turns singing about living it up in the glamour of Hollywood (“Climbing up the H of the Hollywood sign … ‘Cause we’re the masters of our own fate/ We’re the captains of our own soul”). As with LDR’s previous works, the cultural references here are a dime a dozen — from the chorus and the title alluding to Iggy Pop’s 1977 album to the line inspired by ’60s girl group the Angels’ clap-happy classic, My Boyfriend’s Back.

Superorganism/ It’s All Good

Not much is known about Superorganism except that it could potentially be an eight-piece band fronted by a 17-year-old Japanese girl named Orono and based between Maine and London. The group created quite a buzz back in January with their debut single Something for your M.I.N.D. and now they’re back with a follow-up, It’s All Good, a wonderfully wonky pop jam built on spoken word samples, sticky bass lines, and Orono’s cutesy, schoolgirl vocals.

The War on Drugs/ Thinking of a Place

If you only listen to one new track this week, make it The War on Drugs’ Thinking of a Place. Released as a special 12-inch double-sided single to commemorate Record Store Day, the song is the group’s first new original material since 2014’s Lost in the Dream and runs the length of 11 minutes and 12 seconds. Yes, it’s almost three times longer than a typical pop song, but trust us, this gem is worth every bit of your undivided attention. Think something along the lines of Bob Dylan and Neil Young — Americana guitar solos, wistful harmonica and lyrics oozing poetic mastery (“I remember walking against the darkness of the beach/ Love is like a ghost in the distance, ever-reached”).

Elliot Moss/ 99

Given the fact that one of his songs, Slip, has already garnered 30 million plays on Spotify, it’s hard to believe that New York-based singer-songwriter Elliot Moss is still pretty much a newcomer. First breaking on to the scene in 2015 with his excellent self-produced debut album Highspeeds, Moss continues on that upward trajectory with a new EP, Boomerang. Atmospheric lead single 99 finds him deftly navigating the smooth electronic soul territory with his vocals recalling the austere and elusive qualities of James Blake.