The Residents Eskimo on LP + Download
Created over a period of three years (work began shortly after The Third Reich 'N' Roll
was released), Eskimo
was unlike anything anyone had heard before. Instead of an album made up of songs, The Residents
produced a series of acoustic landscapes: each track is the sound of a story taking place, rather than the traditional song telling a story.
The idea for the album is supposed to have come from the band's former collaborator, the Mysterious N. Senada, who had disappeared in the early-70s to search for music among the Eskimos (legend has it that he re-appeared during the making of the album with a tape of sound samples and a jar of arctic air to record). The Residents teamed up with drummer Chris Cutler and Don Preston (formerly a keyboard player for Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention), as well as their regular collaborator, Snakefinger.
Inspired by such pieces of pop culture as the famous Santa Claus Coca-Cola ads, The Residents set about inventing an anthropological background for their Eskimos which didn't bear much resemblance to reality, but instead was based on pop perceptions of the northern peoples (nevertheless, the USSR release was classified as a "cultural documentary"). Each track relates a story which was told in writing on the inside of the album's gatefold cover. The stories are progressively more complex and dig deeper into the fictional Eskimo culture, starting with a simple "Walrus Hunt" and ending with a confrontation with the spirit world and a "Festival of Death" celebrating the end of the six-month night.
The album shows, as did the mini-ballet "Six Things to a Cycle" on Fingerprince, the influence of Harry Partch. Like Partch, The Residents invented their own language and instruments. Most of the fake Eskimo tongue is made up of highly distorted English and is sung while breathing in to give it an alien texture. As the album progresses you can hear the slow invasion of American culture into the Eskimo lives as the Eskimo's spiritual leader, the Angakok, leads them in chants whose nonsense language becomes corrupted with phrases such as "Coca-Cola Adds Life."
Eskimo almost didn't happen. When Duck Stab turned into a big success, the Cryptic Corporation started to promote it heavily. The Residents became worried that the business may have been moving too quickly, not to mention the possibility that the promotions might endanger their anonymity. The Residents were already somewhat afraid that Eskimo might turn out to be dull and pretentious so they grabbed master tapes and disappeared. Desperate for some material to release (the band disappeared the day before the tapes were to go to pressing), the Cryptics pulled an old master tape off of the shelves and released that instead. It was an unnamed album which was never meant to be released, dubbed Not Available by the Corporation.
It turned out that the group had flown to England and left the tapes with Chris Cutler. John Kennedy and Jay Clem of the Cryptic Corporation flew over to collect the tapes, which Cutler had been keeping at the National Safe Deposit Box Company in London. The New Wave press, which had become rather caught up in The Residents after Duck Stab, were quite keen on the whole "disappearing Residents" story, so the Corporation milked the event for its publicity value, playing up the mystery of The Residents' disappearance and releasing press photos of the tape exchange.
The Residents themselves weren't in England. They had apparently gone on to Japan, then reappeared in San Francisco shortly after the tapes were recovered. On their return, the Cryptic Corporation presented them with a new 16-track recording studio as an apology for the misunderstanding. To celebrate the reunion, the band used their new toy to record "Santa Dog '78," which, along with the original "Santa Dog" was given away free as a single to everyone on the Ralph Records mailing list as a Christmas gift in a package which included the story of the disappearance.
When it finally did come out, Eskimo had one other eye-catching feature: it had the first cover featuring the Residents' newest costumes, the eyeball heads. Originally the band had wanted silver spheres reflecting the arctic mists, but that idea proved impractical. The eye-heads, second choices though they were, turned out to be a powerful image: the costumes were so incredibly identifiable that they became the trademark look for the band.
In spite of The Residents' fears about possible pretentiousness, Eskimo was a huge critical success. The music press in the UK loved it, hailing it as a huge milestone in the new music. Sales were phenomenal for an independent, underground album. The first pressing of 10,000 copies on snow-white vinyl sold out quickly. The adulation was so strong, in fact, that the band was afraid that their eyeball-heads might get swollen from all the praise. To forestall this the band spoofed their own albums by creating a disco version called Diskomo. Released as a single, this instrumental work has gone through a number of revisions over its history.
The Residents Eskimo Track Listing:
1. The Walrus Hunt
3. Arctic Hysteria
4. The Angry Angakok
5. A Spirit Steals a Child
6. The Festival of Death