I have to credit Chris Hawkins’ early morning show on Radio 6 Music for introducing me to the Manchester band Sylvette. The slinky, crystalline notes of their new single Kelpius cut through the early morning blur and I was instantly wide awake. Music as caffeine.
The album Stiller than Still, the band’s second album, was released mid July. It contains a fascinating collection of songs which reveal the maturity and confidence of this young 5‑piece band who came together at music college in Manchester. The way Sylvette weave threads of different genres – from classical, electronica and most definitely prog – plus the impeccable production values (it was co-produced by Phil Cunningham of New Order, and Jake Evans) – combine to conjure up a dramatic and poetic landscape. And Sylvette certainly know how to create drama.
Standout tracks for me so far are Memories with its insistent riff, fluid bass and lush violin, while an Eastern riff, perhaps Moroccan, gradually gathers pace. Following this is Surrender – its dreamy opening notes reminding me of Mazzy Star – before vocalist Charlie Sinclair’s fluid Tim Buckley-esque vocals make an entrance.
Then there’s the aforementioned Kelpius – all of its 4.49 mins a tightly sprung unravelling coil of mysticism, both lyrically and musically. The song tells the tale of the cave of Kelpius in Philadelphia, inhabited by a doomsday cult waiting for the end of the world. It’s a synthy summer song, but look deeper and it reveals a dark core. There are Radiohead echoes here, especially as the song draws to an end.
It doesn’t work to have Stiller than Still playing in the background, this album really demands your full attention, especially with the more delicate numbers such as Sometimes I Pretend, in order to absorb its complexities of rhythm and deep, sometimes dark lyrics.
If this was a normal year, Sylvette, like so many bands on the rise, could be playing for festival crowds and introducing their music to a wider audience. In lieu of that, until bands are performing again – and I hope to see Sylvette live – this album is a perfect way to appreciate this unique band.