The same phosphorescent weight found in Nick Sanborn’s work as half of Sylvan Esso is manifest on Penumbra, Sanborn’s debut EP under the name Made of Oak. Bittersweet hooks float through weighted bass while personal textures click, strum, and breathe, giving a tense intimacy to his melodies. Nick is an unconventional producer who combines these elements with deftness and tact, using a palette he has spent years creating. The results are catchy, aching, and deeply satisfying. Movements disappear and bloom again, threads unwind and rewind, melodies sink in and disperse as a new picture finds form. Moments of release are actually audible; the flawed sigh of a human pulse gratefully giving in to the mathematical throb of the beat. The result is a work of real-time conflict and upheaval.
While the music is studied and skilled, Penumbra’s emotions are imperfect and wild. The listener will not be surprised to hear that this story first came into focus in a time of claustrophobia and stagnation. Penumbra follows the arc of Sanborn’s movement through a period of doubt to one of actualization, as told in the present tense. Made of Oak is not an engineered rehabilitation, rather the emotional instinct to liberate himself from his own confining patterns and forge ahead; a result of discovering that it is impossible to have perspective on yourself if you’re standing still. This private view gives the churn and swell of these songs great resonance: A picture of the ocean is much more unsettling when taken from it’s shoreless center.