In a year full of conflict and struggle, a proclamation of the strength and limitlessness of love is just what society needs. Sylvan Esso’s latest album “Free Love” does just that by painting love and life as simple, continuous and intimate.
The indie-pop duo released their third album on Sept. 25. “Free Love” serves as a representation of love’s duality and limitlessness in a modern context. Amelia Meath, the duo’s vocalist, and Nick Sanborn, the instrumentalist, draw from their relationship as a married couple to compose songs that explore the depths of love as a cyclic element of life. The album is composed of 10 songs, and each reflects on a different layer of love.
Sylvan Esso introduces the album with a short song titled “What If.” The lyrics develop a sense of opposition relating to love and, ultimately, life. As she sings, Meath compares images such as darkness and light, oceans and clouds to establish the significance of opposition in love. Overall, the song serves as an introduction for listeners and prepares them for what’s to come, especially with the line “So, open wide / she’s coming out.”
“Free,” the album’s namesake — which Meath called the “center piece of the record” — has a much softer tone than other songs in the album, but this difference helps develop the song’s narrative. The track is about judgments placed on someone who loves openly and freely, sung from the perspective of someone who wishes to be free of the “deception not crafted by me.” In this song, Sylvan Esso calls for the acceptance of love for and towards all, attributing it to the essence of life itself.
The album concludes with the song “Make It Easy,” which speaks on the simplicity and continuity of love, life and death. The lyrics “know it's simple, this loving thing” make it very clear that the duo considers love a simple necessity. However, they connect this love to the continuous cycle of life by singing “World was smaller, but you knew it then / Play it again,” highlighting how perceptions of love and life change with experience over time.
While these three songs serve as a framework for the album, the other songs tell stories that develop the theme of free love. Each song has a narrative relating to modern love, but two songs stand out for their unique stories.
One of the most compelling tracks, titled “Ferris Wheel,” was released in July as the album’s first single. In an Instagram post announcing the new album, the band wrote that the song is about “discovering your power and awkwardly figuring out how to wield it.” However, what makes the song unique is how it connects this idea to love’s modernity. Meath sings with a youthful and mischievous tone that forms a vivid image of a romantic summer night. In singing “Take me, take me, me ferris wheeling, babe / It's the air I crave,” she highlights the youthful energy that often sparks love. Overall, the song connects love to the ideas of fulfillment and youthful joy.
In contrast to the narrative of young lovers and a Ferris wheel is the narrative portrayed in the song “Frequency.” The song is about a young farm girl who falls in love with the person she hears over the radio. The story attributes the idea of distance and unconventional mediums — in this case, radio frequencies — to love and relationships. The girl develops a strong infatuation for the radio figure, but as the lyrics explain, “a wave is all I got.” The song reveals yet another layer of love as an element of life. Love can be found in the most eccentric circumstances, or across vast distances, but it can still be a strong, unyielding force.
The album “Free Love” emphasizes exactly what you’d expect it to — free love. There’s something special about the way Sylvan Esso intertwines feelings of simplicity and continuity to something that often seems so complicated. They paint love as being something that is both forward-thinking and nostalgic. In creating unique narratives and pairing them with the duo’s classic use of synth beats and polyrhythm, Sylvan Esso encourages a modern and open idea of love.