Genre is dead, long live genre. Facetious efforts to compartmentalise Sylvan Esso’s stylistic pluralism are customary by now, but these contrivances conceal the duo’s strident – by-turns radical – simplicity. Their multidimensionality converges on something intrinsically and purely pop. Pop music, after all, is a brash amalgam of tuneful popularities – transfiguring the quixotic into the quotidian – and the incipient chart-hit-as-algorithm fashion implores cramming every aesthetic fad going into a disparate song or record. One expedient listen of Drake’s More Life “playlist” submits greater weight as a neo-noir twist on Now That’s What I Call Music than as a singular album, and while an effective synopsis of chart flavours, there’s little to digest beneath its surface. It’s a newsletter. Inversely, What Now succeeds as a pop assembly and on its own tantalisingly droll footing.

So what does a pop assembly sound like? Though melodic and inventive, What Now’s synth lines and erratic blips digress – welcomingly – into weirdness. The alien-by-way-of-CHRVCHES coda of ‘The Glow’, or ‘Signal’’s Purity Ring-channelling vocal distortions embody the duo at their most impressively dextrous. Tangentially, Amelia Meath’s verbal fluctuations on ‘Signal’, changing pitch as if blinking, are fascinatingly redolent of Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus. There’s something of Hot Chip or Cut Copy to ‘Radio’’s insatiable foot-tappery, while ‘Just Dancing’ illustrates them at their most straightforward; an alias they occupy just as comfortably as the weird, the song a masterclass in dancing build-up and dancing release. Conservative, but damned satisfying. The influences are distinct and many, but when filtered through Sylvan Esso’s innate esotericism and Grade A proficiency in mood and tempo, they become their own beast.

Their esotericism has certainly fostered. One of the most striking aspects of their self-titled debut, which has accumulated an avid cult since its 2014 release, is the interplay between depths of quietude and taut clamour. Relistening to the unexpectedly dancefloor-filling ‘H.S.K.T.’, it’s astonishing how they manipulate silence into riding the primary beat, the product a strange coupling of tenacity and poignancy. The vivacious swingdancing between sixth-gear bombast and their traipsing cavern of space is more pronounced on What Now, with sonic boom breakdowns populating ‘Kick Jump Twist’ and ‘Die Young’. This isn’t just a quirk they’ve expounded, it’s a somatic manifestation of the stark disconnect between where the band stands now in relation to recording their debut.

In my interview with the band Sanborn stressed repeatedly that the album reflected the severity of this remove. How do you cope with, and enjoy, success as veritable pop stars while keeping your feet on the ground, without losing that amicable authenticity that defines you? Often, the dichotomy is played subversively, with self-reflexive comedy. ‘Radio’ is a multifaceted, slapstick send-up of selling out, both in the act itself and its branching ramifications. It’s eyebrows-raised wry, hawking “Now don't you look good sucking American dick/ You’re so surprised they like you/ So cute and so quick.” When played straight, it’s really quite touching. ‘Slack Jaw’ challenges the material success = happiness resolution, stripped to near acapella, with Amelia Meath annotating it as “everything is awesome – and I am still sad.” The opening verse expresses concisely “I got all the parts I wished for/ I’ve got everything I need/ Sometimes I’m above the water/ But mostly I’m at sea.” It’s vulnerable but resolved, and incredibly thoughtful; and reinforced by its beneficiary ‘Rewind’, which asserts the fabrication of personality as a compilation of media, family and friend influences, rather than anything autonomous or inherent. Maybe what you’re selling out over was never really authentic anyway. Aptly for a band as invested in beautiful paradoxes as Sylvan Esso, such a conclusion is both cynical and perversely uplifting.

In our political tumult innumerable artists scramble to express their despair, fear, and outrage through ambitious and trenchant pronouncements, but I’ve increasingly found myself seeking out works of personality which relocate internally; whether for comfort, introspection, or nascent renewal. What Now contemplates private change of circumstance and personhood with pathos, kindness, and humour, and bangs fervidly in the process.