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The Residents - Eskimo CD (album) cover

ESKIMO

The Residents

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.92 | 61 ratings

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AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
4 stars The Residents break down the walls of musical convention and replace it with a haunting disconcerting glacial experience.

"Eskimo" is quite possibly the most original bizarre piece of music on an album in history. The music is undefined and extremely atmospheric. A great deal of the album is made up of chilly icy winds and vocal intonations that may or may not be real Eskimo language. Some of the music is played on home-made instruments to give it that primitive tribalistic feel. The nonsensical gibberish is purportedly not really Eskimo Inuit language but it is effective enough. While the album plays, one is instantly transported to the frozen tundras of the Arctic wasteland among the Nanook tribes. This glacial landscape music is cold, stark, rhythmless and incongruous, but I was compelled to listen as the tale unfolded. The story is documented effectively on the DVD that features the same music as this with a narrative style, some weird animations and icy blue stills of the tribes plight as they battle mystic spirits to retrieve a child taken by a spiritual force. The project could be mistaken for actually representing a real life account of the lives of the Nanook people but it is not meant to according to The Residents. The liner notes of the booklet and the DVD make some sense of all the music and it is worth reiterating this here in detail to enhance this very surreal experiential music.

It begins with 'The Walrus Hunt' where the hunters track down the seals and bludgeon them for food. It then moves seamlessly to 'Birth' where the mother prepares for birth. The ceremonial band play birth music outside the icy cave, and the women soothe her with song. The mother moves through the crystalline cave while the men played a kooa to chant for a boy. The magic man, the Angakok, fills the cave with protective prayers, which I found disturbing, She finally gives birth to a baby, complete with wailing and moaning of the actual birth and then the cry of the newborn on the soundtrack. The sex of the baby is determined, and the baby is removed by the women. Darkness comes across the icy wastes and the music takes on a haunting chill with howling winds and the pounding rhythms of the kooa and primitive drums.

'Arctic Hysteria' begins and the woman in the cave hears the eskimos packing the ice down and she thinks they are under the impression she is dead. The rhythm of death and song of farewell is heard as a mournful chant, very disconcerting music by The Residents. The woman is spiritually sent to the land of the Crestfallen snapping at butterflies, and here the music takes on a very eerie discordance. The butterflies become locusts and then the men become aware of the woman's suffering and sing a chant of releasement; "Chukaroq". The ice closes in and prevents the hunters from catching the large migrating whale. The music is as glacial as it can be and whale song is heard.

'The Angry Angakok' has the magic to remove the ice blocking the way and the people are angered he refuses to intervene. This section of music is unsettling as some preternatural sounds emanate. The hunter challenges the Angakok and his followers respond with a chant, "necki, necki, necki", and they are silenced with a single utterance. The Angakok speaks a spell and the ice cracks followed by a snake standing on the water wiggling with its head in the clouds. It is like a tornado and it causes calamity through the ice floe and the hunter is buried in ice.

The music moves to the most disconcerting passage 'A Spirit Steals a Child'. The music takes on a dark resonance as it depicts the eskimos blowing up and inflating the whale bladders in a ritual. The bladders are thrown into the ice holes so that the spirits would be captured and return the next year. In the excitement a child is left unattended and a spirit rises up of a weeping seal and engulfs the child despite the Angakok's chanting magic. The chant is creepy on the soundtrack and the howling wind sends a chill through the listener. The tribe head off on dog powered sleds to find a cavern of the netherworld where they could break the spell. There, a dog is decapitated and its head is taken into the cavern. The Angakok conjures up the spirit of the weeping seal and demands it return the stolen child. A spiritual battle ensues with the dog's and seal's spirits fighting over the child.

This leads to 'The Festival of Death' where an evil spirit-man appears with a massive head. He is joined by others who tell the terrified hunters, "we have stolen the sun and you must now live in darkness." The dead spirits are frightened off by the women emerging from their igloos beating their chests and claiming their right to life. They all sang a hymn asking the dead to return the sun to the mothers of the snow. The music becomes more rhythmic here after all the chanting and bizarre noises. The men remove their dead spirit masks and join the women in the festive ritual with hand clapping games.

The Residents are always prone to be whimsical if given a chance, parodying themselves and the music they play. It is at this point that the whole thing becomes an elaborate joke as we hear the high chanting "Coca Cola adds life!" and later they chant "we want Coke, yeah!" on the DVD the polar bear with the coke bottle appears and it really throws me for a loop after all the spiritism and Eskimo rituals previously. The music builds to a happier tribalistic percussion as the sun's rays come through after 6 months of icy darkness. "Gratefully the dead have released their hold once more", is written. Music like a Gamelon or some primitive instrument is heard and incoherent growls make up the wintery soundscape to end this extraordinary piece of music.

At the end of this, after being aware of the story via the DVD and notes, I am quite impressed at the entire concept and yet it leaves me pondering what it is all supposed to mean. It is such a challenging conceptual album, very bleak and alienating with extreme anti-music and avant garde musical figures. The Coca Cola insertion makes it seem rather a parody and yet it contains some very serious passages of music that are unsettling but compelling at the same time. Like all Residents projects this is not going to appeal to all tastes and in fact some may not get through all the chanting and mumbo jumbo. A lot of passages are atonal and have no music, just whistling wind and groans. If one can sit through this it is apparent that The Residents will cease to shock after such a fiercely original approach. I have heard at least 7 Residents albums but I have never heard anything like this. But although it is difficult to recommend such high strangeness, I can still admire the album for its unashamedly courageous approach to the medium.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |

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