Sylvan Esso

S&S Presents

Sylvan Esso

Flock of Dimes

Saturday, August 12, 2017

7:00 pm

The Depot - Salt Lake City

$22 ADV / $25 DOS

Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso began as a chance meeting, followed by a couple of risky cross-country relocations that coalesced into ten songs. It became very clear early on that these songs were the product of sheer alchemy; Amelia’s effortlessly acrobatic melodic reflections complimented Nick’s dynamic compositions in ways that were as unlikely as they were undeniable. When it started it was whisper quiet, a slight frame, something almost domestic but gleaming with excitement. Then it made contact with the air.

The duo found themselves on a three-year worldwide swirl of planes, buses, vans, venues, festival stages, hotel rooms, radio stations and television studios. It’s difficult to draw distinctions. We frequently have to work as a group to remember the chronology and version of events, but the stories that make us howl with laughter or shake our heads in bewilderment are crystal clear. Throughout this process there was an underlying truth that remained this shred of creative excitement in what was at times a monotonous grind: that this is just the beginning. But what’s next? Surely it’s not just these ten songs?

Then something happened on a summer afternoon in New York as Nick tuned a broken synthesizer to the pitch of Amelia’s voice while she sang a new mantra. It seemed fitting that Sylvan Esso’s first implementation of the process was for the human to tune the machine, not the other way around. The lines between instrument and voice, programmed and improvised, Amelia and Nick, began to blur. This reverse auto-tune created the sonic blueprint for new music and seemed to articulate something the band was searching for; a need to connect with the light of humanity in our overly stimulated world; seeking the signal amidst the noise. Over the next 18 months the band constructed and shaped these songs at their studio in Durham, North Carolina as well as extended stays in the paralyzing rural Wisconsin winter and the dry desert heat of downtown Los Angeles.

What once sounded small and modest has grown to squall and surge without boundary, but never at the expense of its own intimacy or honesty. There’s been an awakening as to what a Sylvan Esso song can be. The whole thing still shifts and quakes as if the kinetic energy of its own making might send it skittering off but it stays right there perched on a busted flight case on a keyboard stand that’s been lost countless times yet somehow always recovered. The music pushes air. Sylvan Esso is a living breathing thing that exists in the real world.

At its core, this is an album that was created against the backdrop of 2016, which means that it is inherently grappling with the chaos of a country seething inward on itself. Time in the lion’s den gave way to seared indictments of the music industry and narcissistic mass media culture. When the present seems unstable and the future is a pastiche of foreboding it can be natural to turn to the past, to search for some solace in the skipping CDs and rewinding VHS tapes of one’s childhood, but you can never go back again. Never one to shy away from duality, Amelia muses true love as an unavoidable deterrent for a death-wish; it’s a record about falling in love and learning that it won’t save you. It’s an album about meeting your own personal successes but feeling the fizzling embers of the afterglow rather than the roar of achievement; about the crushing realization that no progress may ever be permanent. There are no grand exits or Hollywood endings, life just goes on. Perhaps it is in this truth that we can begin to extend connectivity to one another, free from our own need for narrative. This isn’t just pop music that refuses to be dumb, anymore, this is protest music that refuses to not be personal.

In the final moments of 2016, packed like sardines on the patio of our favorite neighborhood bar Nick and Amelia looked at me wide-eyed and said “it’s done”. They were referring to their new album, but I’m still not sure what punctuation they intended to conclude that statement. I think it was a decree. Or were they asking me? Whatever it was, we all clinked glasses and turned the page to a new year. Or did anything change at all? I think we look older than we did, but I don’t feel any different. They probably don’t feel any different, but I can see how they’ve grown and changed. It’s a family now, one that has a lot of miles under its belt- and it’s growing. When I drive through the grey slate winter light and listen to this album, this new fleet of ten songs, I hear the collections of moments that have led us, all of us, here- What Now.
Flock of Dimes
It's been a year since Jenn Wasner left Baltimore, where she grew up, where her family is, where she began playing music, where she started Wye Oak with Andy Stack and where she was a beloved and integral part of the community. "Baltimore, to me, is noise, and light, and excitement, and constant activity, and all the good and bad things that come along with that," says Wasner, who also shared that Baltimore is overwhelming in the best and worst senses of that word. She was worried that it was eating her alive.
Now she lives in a brand new place: in a quiet house in the woods in North Carolina. And so, when you listen to her debut record as Flock of Dimes, If You See Me, Say Yes, think about how when she says yes to one thing, she's saying no to another. How this record is a kind of monument to those moments of being poised on the precipice, that feeling of diving into the new but at the same time looking back at what's left behind. When standing on an edge like that, both sides - what came before, what's ahead - are in such sharp relief, and this record comes out of that intensity; from "Birthplace" to no place at all; from a deep history to a future in flux. Maybe that's why so many of these songs are built around these ecstatic moments; when it feels like something is spilling open or breaking through, from the cosmic dance-dream of "Minor Justice" to the soaring reassurance of "Everything Is Happening Today." Or "Semaphore," a signal sent from a distance, an attempt to bridge the infinite space between two people (or two cities(.
Flock of Dimes started out as an outlet for Wasner's more experimental/electronic side and, following a string of 7" singles, this debut LP is the culmination of three years of rapid growth & exploration for her, physically, musically and psychologically. From the initial recording in Baltimore (with Mickey and Chris Freeland(, to the process of refining and tweaking (alone and with friends in Durham, Brooklyn, and beyond(, to the mixing in Dallas (with John Congleton(, it's the first record where Jenn has done almost everything - writing, playing, producing- by herself. She said that making this record on her own after having spent so much time making music in close collaboration was harder than expected, but also liberating. You can hear that in the songs, too - so many of them are about being lost, and being free.
Wasner frequently talks about the various competing versions of herself; the Jenn who tells herself that she's being self-indulgent, that she should be out saving the world (whatever that means(; and also the workaholic Jenn who never wants the record to be done-who identifies with Arthur Russell, for whom declaring a song finished felt like a kind of death. But the songs on this record seem to come from another Jenn - the version of herself who "believes in magic, and love, and the mysteries of the universe and shit like that". The Jenn who loves making songs more than anything.
"If You See Me, Say Yes" refers to the decision I've made to continue to share music with people" she explains of the album's title. "I realized long ago that I will always make music-it's such a crucial part of my life, and is the way that I process my experience and, hopefully, find peace. But the choice to share it is separate from that urge-and it comes down to feeling like the connection between people, even amongst strangers, is worth the risk. It's about valuing beauty and connection over fear and alienation, and trying to live with an almost radical sort of vulnerability-- on all levels, at all times."
And now we see her, with her most personal, considered & introspective work to date - an album where each track is as essential as the one before it & the one that follows - and we are most definitely, resolutely saying an unconditional yes.
Venue Information:
The Depot - Salt Lake City
400 W South Temple
Salt Lake City, UT, 84103
http://www.depotslc.com