The very hip Brainfeeder label, in-particular, is guilty of allowing a clutch of poorly engineered, poorly mastered records out of the gate, and into the lap of the public.
Admittedly, part of Brainfeeder’s aesthetic is about taking delight in the somewhat hackneyed business of sample slicing and dicing – a practice that the Ninja Tune label is tarred with, but a paragon of cool like Flying Lotus can get away with. Modern life is full of such paradoxes.
There’s no excuse for making shitty-sounding recordings in 2011, and Brendan Angelides would appear to concur with that statement. His self-titled Eskmo debut (landing, ironically, at Ninja Tune) is one of the best-sounding records since the last Clark opus; allowing every part of his monster sound design to be heard in all its glory.
Eskmo is an album that doesn’t shy away from sonic extremes, and at times it can frighten the bejesus out of you. He can turn on industry-laden climaxes that bear the faint touch of Trent Reznor, and his queasy atmospherics are in the same universe as those of Amon Tobin, who has been quoted as an admirer of Angelides. In fact, Angelides has been a Tobin collaborator.
But this is, loosely speaking, a song-based record, and Angelide’s vocal methodology approaches that of Matthew Dear… a stumbling block for some. The Eskmo vocals are as gonzo and over the top and variable as the album itself, however; multi-tracked, pixelated android voices that varispeed and disassemble and do what the music requires of them, rather than making themselves the focus.
While some reviewers have slated the album for supposed incoherence, I can only assume that these music arbiters listened to the album on a very crappy pair of headphones. It’s an extraordinary thing when listened to in the right context, and I mean listened to, not half-digested as background mush.
‘We Got More’, for instance, turns ‘dance’ music on its head, its beats becoming a giant marching line of robots, his vocals modified against a huge backdrop of super-textural sounds. ‘The Melody’ is so mad that you wonder why Squarepusher isn’t doing this kind of thing; incredibly deep and crunchy, with outlandish synth sounds. ‘We Have Invisible Friends’ mixes post-dubstep depth-charge techniques with post-IDM rhythmic tics, and it’s got gaseous textures, looming deep bass and loads of atmosphere. On ‘Gold & Stone’, on the other hand, buried deep within its radical architecture is a pop song, not fighting to get out but happy to co-exist in this strange space-ship.
It’s not perfect, but the first Eskmo album is the kind of album that makes most so-called “electronic” recordings sound half-baked. Yes, it’s incredibly maximalist and full-on at times, but there are moments of quietude, and as a dedicated listening experience, it’s exceptional. GARY STEEL
MUSIC = 4
SOUND = 4.5