Amelia Meath’s voice has always hummed with quiet intimacy; like a whirlwind, it hits you all at once. In her electronic pop duo Sylvan Esso’s new album, Free Love, this intimacy is reveled in and explored through a multitude of media: melody and lyrics, obviously, but video and web design as well. The listener is left comfortable in their goosebumped skin.
She never sings above a comfortable mumble, yet doesn’t need to scream to convey emotion. Nick Sanborn, her other half, maritally and musically, provides the perfect complement with his production. The album feels like the last days of summer. It is constantly on the precipice of something; on “Rooftop Dancing,” Meath sings, “We’re all running, outrunning death / Summertime breaking but we’re chasing it / Forever rooftop dancing.” The dancing qualities of the tune stay true to its name, but this doesn’t cause it to lose its I’ll-tell-you-a-secret feel.
On “Frequency,” Meath’s voice breaks just a bit with static, making the unique love song feel like something you found by chance late at night on the radio. The idea of catching someone’s “frequency,” being on their wavelength, understanding their patterns — it all contributes to a revealing yet loving feeling of being known. Throughout the whole album, the idea of comfort with intimacy, of loving freely, is embraced time and again. On “Free,” Meath tells the listener that loving everyone around her helps her love herself more fully, as she sees the better version of herself through their eyes. The word “free” echoes simply and joyfully from her lips, releasing itself into the space. The title of the album serves to stimulate listeners’ thoughts in a similar way. What does it mean for love to be free? To have a space reserved for you because someone wants you there, not because you have to earn it? To give over yourself easily?
“What If,” the first song on the album, begins with questions set to a simple melody. Though only a minute and a half, it seems to question why we see the world as something that has beginnings and endings, instead of as something cyclical. In “Make It Easy,” the album’s closer, the duo provides answers. The “it” refers to “this loving thing” that is “spinning round,” “just like a record.” Love comes back to each of us in this circular motion, a tune that is always playing. A build up of shimmering synths into which her voice seems to recede combines with repetitive lyrics to leave us with this mantra of love. The track itself doesn’t end things necessarily, but circles nicely back to “What If,” as the album’s opener asks “What if end was begin?” Both tracks are near whispers, open secrets.
The album is an emotionally experiential one, and leans into its multi-media release. Amelia Meath shines in almost every music video, drawing the viewer in with her easy, groovy dance moves and expressive eyes, no matter the setting. She intensely connects with the camera through her body language, constantly inviting you to partake alongside her in whatever form of love you can. “Free” concentrates on her exclusively, allowing her to reach out to the viewer as she sits and sings in front of pulsating lights. In the video for “Frequency,” she demonstrates her effortless connection with others, focusing heavily on the girl she is dancing with. You can see the excitement of new things and exploration in her gaze and instinctual limb-bending dance. The video for “Ferris Wheel” is an object of fascination. Meath’s body tilts and swirls, emanating the titular object. Her body freely feels the beat of the song in front of a carnival backdrop, creating a piece of multi-colored cathartic release.
In line with the experiential nature of the album, Sylvan Esso set up a release site that allows the listener to follow the creative process of the music. It shows one the texts and emails organizing the music videos, goofy behind the scenes pictures, marked up maps, handwritten lyrics and thoughts on the process. It invites the listener to love the album through their eyes, as creators who have labored over the project for months.
The album doesn’t bleed with emotion exactly, and yet it holds nothing back. It feels like a simple hug from someone you love. The music is lovable because it is good music, yes, but also because it asks to be loved. It is Sylvan Esso’s acknowledgement of their own worthiness to be loved, and of those they love’s worth. Both their musical and emotional growth are apparent on Free Love. All that is left to do, as they advise us on the last track, is “play it again.”
Daily Arts Writer Rosa Sofia Kaminski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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