Sylvan Esso - What Now

Review by Dom Vigil

Political yet incredibly personal, Sylvan Esso’s newest release What Now is a beacon of light in the dark, an incredibly honest release that reminds listeners that they’re not alone. The album itself touches on a wide range of topics ranging from the personal “Die Young” and “Slack Jaw” or the more universal “Radio” and “Kick Jump Twist,” but throughout the album, the transparent honesty and spectacular songwriting are common themes, tying each track together and making it feel like a cohesive and well thought out release.

Right away, the incredible production and care that went into crafting these songs is obvious. Opening song, “Sound” is a simple, stunning yet somber intro, and the beginning of the second track, “The Glow” is spectacular, but when the song finally blooms in the chorus, it’s mind-blowing. What Now is a push and pull between light and dark, highs and lows, and “The Glow” perfectly depicts that. The choruses are bright and stunning, but the verses are darker and a little more somber.

Following “The Glow” is “Die Young,” which touches on falling in love, but realizing that it won’t fix all of your problems. The lead hook, “I was gonna die young/Now I gotta wait for you,” is loving but bittersweet and explores more than just the sweet love songs that we’re used to. At its core, “Die Young” is real and messy and dark, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

The transition between “Die Young” and the upbeat, “Radio” might seem a bit shaky at first, as “Die Young” is a bit darker while this track feels brighter, but that push and pull between light and dark quickly takes over. Lyrically, this song is about conforming to popular music and what people want to see and hear, and it’s situated perfectly alongside the video game-esque “Kick Jump Twist” which unsurprisingly sounds like nothing you’d hear on the radio right now. By this point in the album, the underlying themes will be obvious. These songs might all touch on different subjects, but they’re all similar in the sense that they’re all honest and real.

As What Now continues, these songs will flow with such ease that it’s easy to miss incredible little quirks if you aren’t paying close attention. Where “Just Dancing” feels a little heavier and darker, “Signal” is bright and stunning, but the transition is seamless. Easily the strongest song on the album though is the empty and emotional “Slack Jaw,” which chronicles the struggle of living with depression and anxiety. This song is quiet and simple, but easily the hardest hitting track on the album. Sometimes, you’ll have good days, but there isn’t a magical cure that can fix everything, and that’s clear as day in this track, especially the line, “Sometimes I’m above water/But mostly I’m at sea.”

Lyrically, listeners don't need to guess what these songs are about because they’re all incredibly transparent and sonically, everything on What Now feels very intentional and perfected. Although it never feels forced, everything has a purpose. There isn’t a sound or a lyric or a vocal run that doesn’t make sense, like the layers upon layers of sounds on “Kick Jump Twist” or the barren musical soundscape of the vulnerable “Slack Jaw.” Most of all, these songs are relatable and human, well written and unique, making What Now an absolute must listen.

Rating: 5/5

Listen to "Die Young," "Slack Jaw" or "Kick Jump Twist"