Sylvan Esso's fourth album, 2022's No Rules Sandy, is a charmingly relaxed yet still sonically experimental production that marks a new period of creativity for the North Carolina duo. Technically, the album follows their Grammy-nominated 2020 effort Free Love, which itself marked the end of a trilogy that started with their 2014 self-titled debut and moved through 2017's Grammy-nominated What Now. Those albums were purportedly recorded over long periods of time with much planning and writing. Conversely, No Rules Sandy was produced more loosely in a rented house in Los Angeles where partners Nick Sanborn and Amelia Meath wrote and recorded each song as it came to them in the moment. The result is an album marked by a vibrant spontaneity that retains all of the hallmarks of the sparklingly glitchy electronic pop that made their previous work so compelling. Tracks like "Look at Me," "Didn't Care," and "Sunburn" are effusive, hooky anthems that frame Meath's delicately textured vocals in an organic roboticism marked by shimmering keyboards and chirpy computer sounds. While the digital world is the canvas the couple largely plays in, they've also woven in analog sounds. Sam Gendel applies his throaty, otherworldly saxophone to "How Did You Know." Similarly, the woozy and romantic "Your Reality" features percussion from TJ Maiani, as well as a chamber string ensemble arranged by Gabriel Kahane. The record ends in a ruminative acoustic ballad, "Coming Back to You," that sounds like Meath and Sanborn recorded it on their back porch; their sunny half-lidded vibe is only briefly shattered when Meath's vocals split into multi-tracked alien harmonies. The album is also punctuated by short, evocatively titled songs including "Bad Fills," "Vegas//Dad," and the title track, quirky musical collages built around offhand home recordings of family and friends that work as interludes throughout the record. There's a haunted, kaleidoscopic quality to No Rule Sandy that has the feeling of listening to an old phone message from a loved one you might have forgotten, or watching grainy home movies -- familiar, yet new.
No Rules Sandy Review
by Matt Collar