SYLVAN ESSO – ” With ” Best Albums Of 2020

Posted: December 25, 2020 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Sylvan Esso is Amelia Randall Meath and Nick Sanborn. A Band. With the swift demise of concerts as we know them this year, the live album has taken on a significance it’s not enjoyed for the better part of a half-century. So lucky were we that Sylvan Esso released “With” and its accompanying concert film a month into what felt like the end of everything good. Calling on a row of musician-friends hailing from Landlady, Hand Habits, Bon Iver, Mountain Man, and Mr Twin Sister, the already-great-live duo burn through a jaw-dropping set that recasts their catalogue with the warmth of eight further beating hearts, giving fans less of a reason to mourn the shows that could not be, but rather a glimmer of those to look forward to yet. 

Surprise! Our new “With Love” EP, featuring songs from the extra special From The Satellite performance, is available for streaming. Like its sister record “With” this album reimagines Sylvan Esso’s works as a full band, adding new layers and textures to these classic songs. The live version of “Free” at the end of this is hauntingly, intimately perfect. Twenty minutes and fifty eight seconds of sublime joy. The big band Sylvan Esso vibe is the finest thing there is.

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This tour existed only to exist, not to promote a new album or celebrate a milestone. No, Sylvan Esso simply wanted to do something fun. For themselves, for their fans, and for us, their friends, who got easily roped into being in the ten piece band. We were all sent the song list in advance, with just a few written ideas of what some of us could do on each song, but largely it all remained open for interpretation and when we convened in the house to rehearse in Durham for the first time. On the first day we played the song “Wolf,” checking the pulse of the band, how would we sound together, how would we arrange together, and how much homework did everyone actually do? The first take of that song put everyone immediately at ease and also turned up the temperature. Because it went really well. We knew how good this could sound, how different it could be from the original recordings and how special that would feel for the crowd, and for us. “Wolf” ended up being the first song in the set. “Wolf” became the anchor, before the rocket ship would take off each night. Yes I know I made a boat analogy early. And now I’ve shifted to space. That’s an accurate representation of how this show ended up.

The first four days we would just keep chipping away at songs, written on a large piece of butcher paper on the wall in fat marker, and we’d cross them off one by one as we hit them. The first day was a dream because we learned five songs and they all sounded great. The second day was impossible, because we had to learn five more songs, and then suddenly the songs from the first day weren’t so perfect anymore. That’s the big problem with getting better. Your ceiling goes up, the standards rise, and the goods can always keep improving, which means, in more pessimistic terms, it can always also keep sounding worse. There were twenty songs to learn, so there was a lot of bucking and bobbing back and forth between feeling over-confident and supremely challenged. Sometimes that had to do with how hungry we were.

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After the family style rehearsals concluded, we headed to Los Angeles for tech rehearsal. To get there involved thirteen of us, band and crew, flying on an airplane. Thirteen people each checking three bags. Thirteen people moving through the airport together is insane. It’s like a school trip. After the tour was done Nick and Amelia remarked on how ridiculous it was that we didn’t do any warm-up shows, how insane it was that we jumped into the fire at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a Frank Gehry designed space for the LA Philharmonic where a portion of the audience sits behind you. But we did it. For over two thousand people on night one, we did it, and we did it surprisingly well. We had our expectations set to cautious, because sometimes the first show can be a true disaster, it almost is supposed to be, but everyone cared so much and worked so hard and the stakes felt so high that somehow a meltdown just didn’t happen. 

The last two shows were homecoming shows in Durham, a little different feeling from the classic theatres, and these were the shows that were filmed for what you’re seeing here and now. I’m excited to watch it just so I can see the light show from the front. We were so sad when it ended but there wasn’t a formal goodbye. Folks trickled off to go home, and a bunch of us watched a movie the next day. It’s implied that we will be together again, we’re just not sure how or when. Those of us who don’t live in North Carolina feel ourselves threatening ourselves to move there, but I don’t see it happening for me. I like being called to serve and being swept into the vortex, then returning home to wait for the next vortex to assemble

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