The first sound on the self-titled album by Eskimeaux is a deep drone that sounds like it’s being played back from a 78 RPM shellac disc. It is soon joined by Gabrielle Smith’s vocals, layered on top with crystal clarity and multitracked harmonies at key lyrical points. Soon, church organ and occasional guitar feedback join in. When the rumbling drone cuts out in the song’s climax, the effect is startling, and yet feels organic and right, putting just the right amount of emphasis on the plaintive vocals detailing a story of escape into a cold night. The effect is a stunningly and appropriate opening to a series of songs musing on change—or the lack thereof.
Eskimeaux is a side project of two members of Br’er, whose album City of Ice I gave a glowing review to last year. Where Br’er’s album is sonically dense and harsh, each track a cathartic experience of tension and release, Eskimeaux takes a different approach to similar themes. The album’s production is layered and lush, while maintaining a sense of sparseness. A lot happens under the surface of every track. There’s the chittering, scratchy sample that percusses under “Angels Angels,” or the subtle application of multi-tracked harmony on the mainly a capella “Vos es Verum.” None of the production seems to be here for its own sake. Instead, every effect and instrumentation shift is used to augment the lyrics and their story—particularly on “Littoral Lullaby” with thumping percussion to simulate a bumpy ride on the New Jersey Turnpike segueing into choral pads that underscore a sexual encounter, and then most of the instrumentation fading away once Gabrielle laments “My God, I am spread so terribly thin.”
Gabrielle Smith’s voice, and her lyrics are placed front and center, uniting the disparate sections of each track. The album’s harshest sonic moments only come when she is silent. Eskimeaux was started by Smith as an audio diary, and the lyrics have the confessional quality one would hope a work of that nature has. Some lyrics are poetic such as on “Your Fire Arms,” and some matter-of-fact, such as the journey in “Littoral Lullaby.” Many are both. So many of the lyrics feel as though we’re opening a forbidden door, looking in on something we were not meant to see.
Eskimeaux, as an album, also seems to bend time somewhat. Barely over thirty-three minutes in full, each track provides a world to get lost in, feeling longer than the time shown, and yet the album feels too brief, even with the mammoth seven and a half minute closer, “Curses”. There are worlds within each track to be gathered. At times the sparseness of the production can allow the listener to get a little too lost, though this may be part of the intention. The greatest strength of Eskimeaux is that its shifting sonic landscape never allows one to wander too far before another shift forces attention where it belongs, whether or not the listener would rather be elsewhere.