The Residents - Eskimo(Preserved Series) [Cherry Red/ MVD Audio - 2019]1979’s Eskimo still stands one of the more heady and unique releases from long term Us experimental/ avant pop collective The Residents. It was the projects sixth album to be released, appearing when The Residents where really at the height of their popularity in the UK & Europe, and rather surprisingly it was one of the projects less approachable/commercial releases. Been a six-track album that blended together chilling ambient synth-scaping, weird home-made instrumentation, bizarre tribal chants, and subtle ethnic percussion. From Cherry Red/ MVD audio here is the next in the series of double-disc 'Preserved Series' which sees the labels releasing the ultimate edition of Resident albums- with each album getting a classy new remastering, and a second disc of rare related recordings- many which have never been widely heard before.
As the album's title suggests the theme/concept here is the Inuit people of Alaska, & Greenland, and Canada- though in typical Residents fashion it’s put across in a decidedly weird, quirky & bizarre manner. Each one of the six tracks is supposedly telling either a tale from the Inuit people lives, or their folk legends- utilizing chilly & freezing ambient synth texturing, sound effects, home instrumentation that’s supposable of Inuit origin, layered chanted vocalising, and later ethnic percussion. Yet for all it’s ambient & experimental leanings it still remains, by normal standards for such releases, a fairly focused & concise affair with each of the tracks telling their stories in a well if highly weird manner- and with a total original album runtime of thirty-nine minutes
The album opens with “The Walrus Hunt” which begins with moody-yet- decidedly chilling blend of whooshing wind sounds, dramatic & brooding synth horn work, and layers of distant chanted-yet-alien like vocalizing. Fairly soon we get the sound of splashing & paddling water, a sudden whooping & accelerating tone, followed by guttural animal screams- all which is meant to be recreating the track's title- yet there is a strange, off centred & unreal edge to the proceedings- that brings the track above simple sonic playmaking/ re-enactment.
As we move through the rest of the album we go from bright-yet-icy synth melodies, more synthetic wind sounds & at times quite shrill electronic texturing, a host of weird & wonderful sound effects. Surreal theatrical vocal sounds & acting, more of the layered chanting- as well as all manner of strange plucking, piping & twangs from the home-made instrumentation- with the latter half of the record seeing more tribal/ ethnic elements coming into play too. It’s an album that’s very difficult to let alone described, but tie down into a single sonic genre or bracket- as it has elements of strange ethnic music, ambience, surreal experimentation, and bizarre theatrical production- yet it managers to completely stand in its own genre, due to the way it’s been put together in such an alien & strange manner. Even after forty plus years of releases from the project, Eskimo rightly still stands as one the true jewels in The Resident’s discography- and really even if your familiar & like the genres mentioned above you won’t have heard anything quite like this.
Moving on to this new double-disc edition of the album- and first, off we have to talk about the new restoration & re-mastering of the album by Scott Colburn. Though-out the releases thirty-nine minutes he’s managed to create a more detailed, shifting & nuanced version of the album- which still retains it’s early 70’s electronica/ ethnic rhythmic charm- yet has modern definition & clarity- Colburn has been involved with all of the remasterings of these 'Preserved series' - and he really has done another stellar job, really I’d say his best yet.
Next, of course, we have to go onto discuss the extra/ exclusive material for this new release- first off at the end of CD one, after the albums six original tracks, we get two very fascinating tracks- there’s the fourteen & a half minutes of “Eskimo 1978 demo”, and the just over twenty minutes of “Eskimo Acapella Suite”. The first track really sees the project trying out textures, sounds, and vocalising- in a much more free form yet still relatively focused manner- so you hear elements that would go on to make separate tracks, as well as ideas that wouldn’t. The second track does pretty much what it says in its title- so we get a selection of the album weird chanted, layered & surreal vocals- brought away from the albums other elements, to stand on there own feet- so due to this you can clearly make out the more clever & playful references to the modern western world & it's products, that the collective subtle layered though-out the album.
Moving onto the second disc- and this features twenty tracks and seventy-three minutes of music. Not all of it is exclusive material, but it’s all rare- to- never before released. Opening up the disc we have three never before released tracks- “Kenya”- which is seemingly the projects stab at doing more African focused take on some of Eskimo’s more ethnic elements. “Middle Eastern Dance” again a more eastern takes on the odd ethnic thing. And lastly “Scottish Rhapsody”- which is sort of the mid-way point between the projects swirling carnival synth texturing, and off-key ethnic music- with of course a decidedly Scottish tinge. Each of these tracks are fascinating, really showing wonderful mad sonic miniatures that could have sprouted each their own bizarre releases, but of course, never did.
Next, we get “Diskmo (Demo)”- which as its title suggest is the rough run for their Diskmo release- which saw them taking elements of the Eskimo album & adding in off-kilter disco touches. After this, we get the tracks from the “Diskmo” 12 inc- taking in the original seven minutes fifty-five-minute title track, and four tracks from the other side of vinyl- which saw the project doing extremely deranged & strange versions of nursery rhymes. Over the remaining eight tracks we get a few more exclusive in the shape of “I Left My Heart In San Francisco”- a deranged blend of cartoon-like chanting, downturn sinister guitar work, and mumbled male vocals. “Eskimo Suite(1982 rehearsal)”- nearing eight & a half minute excise in more synth-bound & odder take on original Eskimo album elements. The remainder of the disc features a host of other rare nuggets- which really most, aside from hardcore fans will have heard before.
As with all the releases in the 'Preserved series'- the two CD’s come presented in a six-panel mini gatefold presentation-which in its middle features a 24-page glossy booklet. This takes in a new page write-up about the album by Dave Henderson, the original Eskimo stories that each of the tracks are based around, a good selection of press clippings/ reviews from the British from the albums original release, rare papers & behind the scenes pics. As well as write-ups about bonus material, etc- really a very nicely done inlay booklet.
(Top) hats off once again to the guys at the Cryptic Corp, Cherry Red & MVD for putting out such a great, in-depth, yet always fascinating version of this classic Residents album- really I’d say this will not only appeal to long term fans of the project, but newbies too, as well as anyone interested in hearing a highly distinctive & at times deranged meeting between ambience, head-music, & ritual/ ethnic music- really, as I said there hasn’t been before or since anything quite like Eskimo.