On Sylvan Esso’s fourth studio album, No Rules Sandy, the electro-pop duo of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn rebalance their synthesized–yet–organic sound, losing much of the band’s trademark musical synergy. On past releases, their pairing of folk sensibilities with electronic instrumentation and production was unique in that they found a way to highlight each other’s strengths—Meath’s vocal warmth and Sanborn’s inventive accompaniment.
Here much of the music sounds cold and a bit distant. “Moving” and “Look At Me” lean almost techno, and it feels that Meath could be replaced by any number of vocalists to achieve the same middling results. Club-ready “Echo Party” boasts a danceable groove and a few interesting audio inserts, but sounds disinterested, and the six brief interludes, or sound bytes, do little to catalog the immediacy and intimacy of the creative process, nor do they further the set’s overall cohesion.
Not all is lost. The best pair of songs, “How Did You Know” and “Didn’t Care,” achieves better results through a warmer tone, some great songwriting, and an even balance of Meath and Sanborn contributions. The slightly aloof “Sunburn” also works with its double tracked vocals and clever instrumental section. Overall, No Rules Sandy contains solid music, but some of the tracks sound a bit generic, lacking the special spark that makes Sylvan Esso’s best music so appealing.