All You'll Be Is Sound
on a song that's more than poetry
Artist: Sylvan Esso
Album: What Now
Describing “Sound” to NPR, Amelia Meath of Sylvan Esso said the song was both “a statement of purpose and a love letter to the listener,” a way of “translating your humanity through a machine in the hopes of connecting with someone on the other side.” That’s so beautiful. And true.
The song starts with crackling electronica before Meath’s voice begins to blend with the noise, transforming it, line by line, from something inhuman into nothing more than the plaintive humanity of her words. And her words, like the sound, like the statement of purpose, are beautiful:
I was gonna write a song for you / gonna sing it out loud / gonna sing at such decibels that / all you’ll hear is sound and / all you’ll feel is sound and / all you’ll be is sound
Lyrics are often and fittingly compared to poetry, and while they are similar they are not the same. Lyrics have the opportunity—the obligation, even—to amplify and be amplified by the sounds that embody and surround them. Meath takes full advantage of that opportunity, contrasting the bombast she describes with the delicacy of her delivery, suggesting that “all you’ll be is sound” as her voice literally arises from synthetic instrumentation. The beauty of her words aside, isn’t this the promise of any great song? To pull you in so that all you hear is sound, all you feel is sound, and that, captured as you’ve become, all you are is sound?
It’s also wonderful how Meath uses an imperfect tense: She was gonna write a song for you, was gonna sing it out loud. Her serene alto, as it takes shape through a cloud of electronica, tells you only what might have been or what might yet still be. It’s a perfect enticement; you’ll have to keep listening to determine if or when she delivers on that promise.
I give “Sound” four out of five stars.