Electronic duo Sylvan Esso have had a few years to think about their latest project. It was “around the high of the pre-vaccine pandemic” that their last major release came out and it catered directly to the group’s growing popularity. Now, two years later, they are returning to the raw and lawless sound that ushered them toward the mainstream in the first place.
Nick Sanborn and Amelia Meath, who make up the Durham, North Carolina group, first collaborated in 2013 when he was a solo act and laid down an enthralling remix of a song by her trio, Mountain Man, which Meath wrote, titled “Play It Right.” They would continue their work together and release a self-titled record the following year.
That debut garnered the interest from a large swath of the electronic music community and went on to crack the top 40 of the Billboard 200 list, thanks to the success of the hit songs “Coffee” and “Hey Mami.” However, the duo’s ascent would not stop there, as the battle-like sound of Meath’s voice against Sanborn’s rigid production carried onto their next record, 2020’s Free Love. That album earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Record.
On No Rules Sandy, their latest LP, their sound is still very much of the noise that the duo has always pedaled out. But there are certain subtleties here that make it more enthralling. An experimental feel permeates these tracks, with vocalist Meath floating over the eruptive and sharp tracks that Sanborn lays down. This is the sound of a band just coming out to break the barriers of a diluted genre—yet it comes eight years after the group’s self-titled debut first hit the shelves.
“When we were making this one, we truly didn’t think we were making a record; we were just having fun together and f—ing around, because all our plans fell through,” Sanborn tells LAMag of the album’s roots in the COVID lockdowns. “This entire narrative we’ve been on led us to this place where when we started making this one, it felt like we were making it without fear and just for fun.
“Whether or not people will hear that, I have no idea. When I listen to it, it feels lawless and impressionistic, and I hope that comes across,” he continued.
No Rules Sandy feels like an ode to the early days of any group, when the music that was released had all the full-on heart and soul of each member placed in it. Simply put, the album sounds honest and true to what made the group in the first place—having fun and creating what they love.
This bleeds through particularly strongly in the closing track, “Coming Back to You,” which left an entire listening party for the record in Los Angeles completely still as Meath’s vocals layered over the top of a simple acoustic guitar quickly resulted in a frozen group who could only stand and listen.
“She wrote it exactly a year ago and she sent it to me as a voice memo,” Sanborn remembered. “I was like, ‘this has to be on the next record,’ and she said ‘I don’t know, it doesn’t seem like a Sylvan song,’ And I said, ‘I’m telling you, this is what we’re doing; this is us right now.’”
No Rules Sandy drops on August 12 on Loma Vista.
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