Available on: Ninja Tune LP
When primarily instrumental producers start to play with adding vocals to their productions, the effect can either be uplifting or can serve to change the music in drastic ways. There is sometimes a feeling that vocals mean accessibility or popularization, which is very dependent on the producer. For Eskmo, the elaborate vocals on his first full-length album enhance the already organic sounds of his productions. Over his 10 year history, Eskmo (Brendan Angelides) has been known for dynamic tracks with gigantic rolling beats and intricate sound design. This sound design is extremely human sounding due to his love of found sound recording and strong music background. The prevalent vocals put narration and poetry to this living, breathing, musical body of work.
Throughout this self-titled album for Ninja Tune, the music unfolds like blood pumping, each song a vein sending vital nutrients out in different directions. The woozy synths that dominate ‘Cloudlight’ sound like a breezy afternoon outdoors, as is appropriate for Angelides, who makes his home in San Francisco. This is also the first appearance of those telltale drum pattern, the methodical thump that easily identifies an Eskmo track. The heavily effected vocals are almost guttural, deep and textured. ‘Color Dropping’ is almost sparse in comparison, even though it’s a more complicated track, with vocal range changes and multiple breakdowns. On songs like these two and the short ‘You Go, I See That’, the sense of urgency in prior tracks by Eskmo is absent. He’s adapted to the luxurious pace of a full album by stretching the music out and taking his time telling a story, letting it flow.
The quirky ‘Become Matter Soon, For You’ has a catchy chorus and minimal melody which moves the track along with a cavernous low-end and some of the most elaborate and existential lyrics on the album. It’s followed up by an epic stomper called ‘Moving Glowstream’ that recalls tracks that Eskmo has released for Warp and Planet Mu over the past year. Squiggly synths and bubbling percussion prevail, with sound effects coating the minimal vocals and melody in the futuristic sheen that Eskmo is well-known for. Speaking of futuristic, one of the most exciting songs on the album is ‘Starships’, with a huge buzzing bass that sounds like a some kind of hyperdrive powering up and speeding across the galaxy. It pumps thunder in the veins of the album and contrasts the more laid back songs well. ‘Gold & Stone’ has a similar bassline but uses a high pitched melody over the top and a sumptuous vocal to counteract the immensity of that low-end.
A few of the most experimental tracks are near the end of the album, where Eskmo really plays loose with the record’s biology. ‘Communication’ moves exceedingly slow, the vocal phrase stuttering and heaving over and over, interspersed with shimmering synths and minimal percussion. Snatches of speed-up childlike speech interrupt the main vocal throughout, giving it a feel of musique concrete. The closing “My Gears are Starting to Tremble” best shows how Eskmo has been freed from the expectations of singles. As the mechanical being of the production slowly decays behind him, he offers a stately monologue, telling a sad tale of moving on. The experimental songs like this, heavy movers like ‘Starships’ and ‘The Melody’, and the melodic epics ‘Siblings’ and ‘Cloudlight’, Eskmo has presented his entire body of work in one album, showing all facets of the organ where his mind resides. It’s a unique vision and fascinating example of the intersection of organic and electronic.