A Dangerous Idea Instilled in 7 Beats of Sylvan Esso

Electronic pop duo Sylvan Esso performs at South by Southwest.
Image Credit: friedoxygen, via Wikimedia Commons

By Shira Richman

I first encountered the electronic pop duo Sylvan Esso in a Tiny Desk Concert. This three-song introduction set the Divorce wheels a turning.

1) First it was Amanda Meath’s voice. It stopped me like a rabbit catching a whiff of clover in an overgrown field: sweet, sinewy, smooth notes stretching and stitching infectious melodies.

2) Once she begins to move, you will likely be curious to see what she’ll do next. She reaches out her arms, and their swaying seems to ripple through her tiny body, right to the little stumps of her platform boots. Her fingertips flick the air, seemingly creating bright splashes of chimes, but that auditory sparkle is made by the other half of the duo.

3) Nick Sanborn’s movements are also hypnotic. He makes an ever-surprising array of sounds from buttons, faders, and dials, his long fingers turning, adjusting, and punching in a complex choreography, all the while flashing a tattoo on his forearm.

4) It looks like a flow chart, and if you’re like me, you’ll train your eyes on it, transfixed, until you see that it is: on the right arm every minor chord progression in Western music is depicted, and the left arm shines all possible major chords. Apparently, he refers to these graphics while composing music. This is a good life hack for someone who claims he is a space cadet. No more time spent looking for the sketch on an envelope.

5) The set of complementary talents between these two quirky humans felt familiar: I write lyrics, melodies, sing, dance, and have a penchant for platform shoes. Tracy is an accomplished and creative composer, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, producer, mixer, recorder, knob-turner, fader adjuster, and button puncher.

6) A clear distribution of roles–perhaps this was the secret to Sylvan Esso’s happiness. Each of us could have our own, distinct jurisdiction.

7) When I made Tracy listen to them, he also liked their music. I don’t know if he yet knew the weight of saying their music was cool.