The best collaborations bring a push and pull that forces each member out of their comfort zones, and charts new territory they may not have ventured by themselves. Case in point: Sylvan Esso, the new project from singer Amelia Meath, of the mostly a cappella Vermont folk trio Mountain Man, and Nick Sanborn, of the North Carolina rock band Megafaun. Unlike those more guitar-based, acoustic-leaning groups, Sylvan Esso takes a stylistic leap, veering a hard left toward minimal electronic music and taut synth pop. And with their superb self-titled record, Meath and Sanborn perfectly encapsulate that creative spirit of collaboration, equally showcasing their individual talents, and creating a synthesis of their group’s respective sounds in a new way.
With tracks like “Uncanta,” and the album’s best single, “Coffee,” Sylvan Esso best demonstrates its alluring and spare sound: Meath singing amid Sanborn’s woozy hooks, chiming synth sequences and laptop beats. Elsewhere, in “Hey Mami” or “Come Down,” Meath begins with her seductive, unadorned voice, before unfurling layers harmonies as stirring and shimmering noises begin to percolate around the periphery. And in “Wolf” and “Play It Right” (a song Mountain Man has performed a capella), the throbbing synths and clattering percussion gets heavier, darker and dancier.
With a practically fully-formed sound out of the box, Sylvan Esso has made one of the year’s best pop debuts so far. But it also captures an exciting and fruitful pairing still discovering what it wants to become — and with endless potential to grow.