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Residents | Eskimo | review | dvd | alternative | rock | Lollipop

The Residents

Eskimo (Cryptic)
by Lex Marburger

Part faux-ethnomusicology in-joke, part indictment of capitalist consumerism, part creepy fun-time freak-out, this album has had people scratching their heads since the mid '70s. The Residents, long known for their uber-concept albums, threw just about everyone for a loop with Eskimo, an album purportedly not only stemmed from field recordings of Polar Eskimos, but which also was rumored to've driven the artists a bit mad... Or so they say. The original intent seemed to be this: Each song was accompanied by a short piece of text, which sketched out a story, or slice of life in the Eskimo experience ("The Walrus Hunt," "Birth," "A Spirit Steals a Child," etc.). Keeping the brief exposition in mind, the music then fleshed out the details, the wordless (or untranslatable?) grunts and electronic moans telling you more than any mere description.

Recently, the anonymous ones have added visuals to this concept, resulting in the Eskimo DVD. Stills of anthropologic Eskimo pictures are dissolved in and out, adding more texture to the story, letting the viewer gaze into their craggy faces as they act out "The Festival of Death," their chants growing louder and louder and… wait a minute. Was that a McDonalds' logo that just flashed on the screen? Are they actually saying "I want Coke?" Pretty much. The album ends with the disclaimer, "All the stories on this record are expressed in the past tense. This is because the Eskimo, particularly the Polar Eskimo... was ‘rescued' from its miserable lifestyle by welfare... The Polar Eskimo has been relocated entirely into government housing, and now spends most of the day watching reruns on TV." At this point, whether or not this is entirely true is a moot point. The Residents have drawn you into this barren, icy world, and then snapped you back out into vicious reality, urging the listener to re-conceive his notion of "progress."

And the music? The music is as spooky as it's ever been. At times arhythmic, crude, and ominous, at others far too tonal and "nice," but always off-setting and mysterious. Listening to this album is a disturbing experience, to say the least, even when the music turns to the beautiful and harmonious. Eskimo should be considered a full-blown sensory experience, not just something to listen to; casual entertainment (or easy answers) has never been their aim.

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