Eskmo is the recording alias of San Franciscan Brendan Angelides. He has been recording for over a decade, but this eponymous effort is his first album. He has also collaborated with drum & bass/post-jazz hero Amon Tobin under the name Eskamon (get it?). Angelides has indicated that the album format has allowed him to expand beyond the dance floor, and really express himself. Apparently, the songs on Eskmo were influenced by Angelides’ relationship issues and personal trials.
The album is expressive. There are a lot of different sounds going on and things happening. The problem is that the songs on Eskmo express themselves in a very similar manner. Worse, that manner is hard on the ears. Angelides deals in a uniquely cacophonous sludge of funk, glitch techno, R&B, and mood music, often with a clattering of percussive sounds in the background. It’s novel and even interesting in small doses. Very small doses. But it begins to grind quickly. Think of the beginning of Pink Floyd’s “Money”, with the clink-clink-clink of cash registers giving way to the deliberately stolid bass line. Now imagine that on a continuous loop that runs for an hour, and you have an idea what Eskmo feels like.
It all starts off promisingly enough, as a distorted synthesizer wobbles to life and kicks up a primordial back beat. There’s an atmospheric synth pad in the background, providing tension, and what sounds like squirts of oil spilling over the outside. Angelides starts singing about “Cloudlight” in a deep, ominous tenor with a vocoder underneath. It’s like George Clinton meets the Orb, and that’s pretty far out, man. “We Got More” follows, not so much deviating from the formula as approaching it from a different angle, this time with a more steady 4/4 beat and swelling analog synth chords. But then things start to go awry.
Your ears start to catch up with Angelides’ sonic trickery. “Color Dropping” sounds like the previous two tracks combined and played backward. Tracks like “The Melody” and “Moving Glowstream” feature shivering, whirling synths that suggest Angelides is a dubstep fan. But the weight, depth, and dynamics of the best dubstep are missing, and nothing is offered as a replacement. It’s almost as if that’s just what Angelides’ equipment decided to spit out. Angelides’ voice appears on most of the tracks, delivering a phrase or two with that Zapp/Roger electronic tone. It never sounds as authoritative or mysterious as it does on “Cloudlight”, though.
Not all is lost. “Siblings” brings in a bit of acoustic piano, which gives the track some direction and emotion. Some of the instrumentals are evocative yet unobtrusive enough to suggest Eskmo’s true calling might be soundtrack work. But mostly, the tracks on Eskmo can’t overcome their own inertia. This album is like a drunk, stumbling around in the night. You can see potential, and the sight is entertaining. But a drunk’s brand of amusement gets pretty old after a pretty short while.