Sylvan Esso broke onto the scene with Hey Mami in 2014 with their brand of bright vocals and dirty neon synth. This combination is incredibly successful for Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn, who have put out three fun and energetic records. This style is a far cry from Meath’s complex vocal and harmony work in Mountain Man, who put out the acapella record Magic Ship. Having said that, Meath’s vocal brilliance paired with Sanborn’s production / synth work is both intoxicating and mesmerising.
Often times syth infused music is described as “neon” in an attempt to describe its energetic and bright vibe. In most cases, this “neon” aesthetic resembles the buzzing pink and blue light you find hanging in the window of your favourite club. In Sylvan Esso’s case, the electro pop / syth is more akin to a neon hose thrashing uncontrollably drenching everything in its path in a thick glowing soup. It is like when you are a kid trying to drink out of a garden hose that is turned up to 11. It is messy and dangerous, but also the most fun you have ever had. The track Play it Right is a clear example of this experience, but Ferris Wheel carries on this tradition with some new tricks.
Meath’s clear and cutting vocals are paired with electro pop beats, syth and post production vocal effects. Much like past Sylvan Esso tracks, the song starts with some unassuming electro beats. However, these simple pops and cracks are quickly overpowered by funky syth riffs that take you on a rich journey. Sanborn adds to the neon fun with electric vocal feedback, robotic backing tracks and even some pop flute. Musically, these vocal production flourishes and electronic layering creates a fun neon dance-floor for Meath’s vocals to play with reckless abandon.
The track describes a summer scene at a fair when two people connect and the track’s subject is waiting to hook up with this person they have seen around the neighbourhood. Above all else, this is a song about freedom and escape. Meath sings, “Take me, take me, me ferris wheeling, babe / It’s the air I crave.” She is looking for freedom and escape from daily life. She is looking for it in the ferris wheel, she is looking for it in sex with this person from the neighbourhood and she is looking for it on the neon dance-floor. The lyric, “You’ll do fine for tonight” surfaces in the track over and over, which highlights this need for escape. In Ferris Wheel the speaker is not looking for life changing events, but a brief reprieve from everyday life.
Sylvan Esso’s combination of Meath’s impeccable vocals and Sanborn’s electro pop / synth wizardry is well crafted and incredibly catchy. Even though most music recorded during this time focuses on dread or social activism, Ferris Wheel is the other side of the coin. The need for escape and freedom is in direct response to the isolation and division we are experiencing today.
Listen to Ferris Wheel