As far as difficult second albums go, Sylvan Esso's sophomore effort sounds anything but, as evidenced by the assured single "Kick Jump Twist." It's a bombastic cut complete with bleeping, burping, and bellowing synths that rise and fall in layers, underpinned by Amelia Meath's rhythmic vocal. In short, it's the kind of pop banger that's likely to satisfyingly answer the anticipation that has built since their last release, and no doubt seduce a number of new fans to their particular blend of indie pop. On the flip side, the opening track of What Now has more in common with their predilection toward a more off-kilter take on pop music. It matches unearthly vocals with an earthly melody over retro electronics, and under a hiss of static. "Sound" is a rather beautiful way to begin the record, if an unexpected one. The hypnotic effect is broken by the following track, "The Glow," which picks up the pace with nimble, energized, and lightly wielded electronica that has a warmly organic texture. That freshness sometimes takes a more conservative turn. Given that "Radio" takes a pop at the superficial nature of the music industry, it seems strange that they have chosen to do it with one of their less imaginative tracks. It's also difficult to tell if the "slave to the radio" chorus is purposefully outdated in its reference [insert streaming service of choice]. Nevertheless, the barbed lyrics are good fun: "Don't you look good sucking American dick/You so surprised they like you, you're so cute and so quick." Similarly, just as the big hook backed by brassy keys and a dramatic drum machine on "Die Young" makes for perfectly serviceable electropop, they're probably more successful when their music embraces the slight oddness that made their debut such a delight. Rather than veering into generic genre tropes, as on "Just Dancing," the tracks that explore more unique approaches are more enjoyable for it. "Slack Jaw" is such a song. It's one of the quieter moments on the record, and also one of the most touching, complete with a ding that feels like it's pinging at your eardrum with its warm entreaties. It's credit to the duo that this album can hold the sunny indie pop of "Song" alongside the strange arrhythmic percussion of "Rewind," making for a varied experience. What Now is less eccentrically atmospheric than its predecessor, but their boisterous energy is intoxicating enough to win you over, and their sense of fun is palpable.
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AllMusic Review by Bekki Bemrose