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Eskimo is the sixth studio album by The Residents, released on Ralph Records on September 26th 1979.

It was recorded by the group between April 1976 and May 1979, after they were inspired by the results of an expedition to the Arctic, undertaken by the group's mentor, N. Senada in the mid-1970s.

Often considered a landmark release in The Residents' catalog, Eskimo consists of a series of acoustic landscapes designed to be listened to while reading the accompanying short stories in the album's liner notes.

History

Inspiration and concept

The initial idea for Eskimo is said to have come from The Residents' mentor and collaborator, N. Senada, who had suddenly disappeared to the Arctic in 1975 during the filming of the group's film project Vileness Fats, announcing that he wished to research the music of the Eskimo people.

Senada re-appeared unannounced in early 1976 with a tape of sound samples of wind and a jar of Arctic air for the group, providing the genesis for the Eskimo project, which they began working on shortly after the release of The Third Reich 'n Roll.

Borrowing from pieces of American pop culture such as the Coca-Cola Santa Claus ads, The Residents set about inventing an anthropological background for their "Polar Eskimos", which didn't bear much resemblance to reality but instead was based on popular perceptions of the northern peoples (nevertheless, the Soviet release of the album was classified as a "cultural documentary").

Each track on Eskimo relates a story of Eskimo life, which was further detailed in writing on the inside of the album's gatefold cover. Each digs progressively deeper into The Residents' 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 polar night.

Feud with The Cryptic Corporation

Press release announcing the delay of Eskimo, 1978

When the 1978 Duck Stab! EP became a success, The Cryptic Corporation started to promote it heavily. The Residents (who were already somewhat afraid that Eskimo might turn out to be dull and pretentious) became worried that the business may have been moving too quickly - not to mention the possibility that the promotions might endanger their anonymity.

When the Cryptics reissued the group's 1976 single Satisfaction against the band's wishes, capitalizing on the recent release of a similarly unusual cover of the song by Ohio band Devo, The Residents supposedly grabbed the master tapes to Eskimo and promptly disappeared.

Desperate for some material to release, as the group had disappeared the day before the masters were to be delivered to the record plant for pressing, the Cryptics pulled "some old tapes" off of the shelves and released those instead.

Recovery of the tapes

Chris Cutler hands the Eskimo tapes over to Cryptic president John Kennedy, who is accompanied by a bodyguard

It eventuated that The Residents had flown to England and left the Eskimo tapes with their friend Chris Cutler, percussionist for British avant-garde group Henry Cow (and later Ralph stablemates Art Bears). 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, suddenly very interested in the activities of The Residents after the release of the Duck Stab!/Buster & Glen LP, were more than happy to cover the "disappearing Residents" story, so the Cryptics 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 were no longer in England, having apparently gone on to Japan, then reappearing in San Francisco shortly after the Eskimo tapes had been recovered. On their return, the Cryptics presented them with a new 16-track recording studio as an apology for the misunderstanding.

Release

Cover art

Original silver sphere mask design for Eskimo

When it was finally released on Ralph Records in September 1979, Eskimo had one other eye-catching feature: the introduction of The Residents' newest costumes, which were featured prominently on the front cover.

Originally, The Residents had wanted silver spheres which would reflect the Arctic mists, but that idea proved to be expensive and impractical. Instead, the group developed a powerful image - four figures in eyeball masks with top hats and tuxedos, standing against a German Expressionist-style Arctic backdrop.

This image proved so incredibly identifiable that it became the trademark look for the band. This strength would turn against them later, however, when they found it difficult to produce new costumes which would be as easily identified with the group).

Reception

In spite of The Residents' concerns about the album being too pretentious, Eskimo was a huge critical success upon release. The first pressing of 10,000 copies on snow-white vinyl sold out and the album went on to sell 65,000 in its first six years, more than all other Ralph Records releases. After the first run ran out, the band re-pressed the album on black vinyl in a non-gatefold jacket with the stories written up on the record sleeve.

Andy Gill of New Music Express said, "I'm not sure quite how to convey the magnitude of The Residents' achievement with Eskimo. What I am sure of is that it's without doubt one of the most important albums ever made, if not the most important, and that its implications are of such an unprecedentedly revolutionary nature that the weak-minded polemical posturing of purportedly 'political' bands are positively bourgeois by comparison."

Diskomo

Following the critical acclaim of Eskimo, The Residents created Diskomo, a "disco" track incorporating a number of musical themes from the album, in order to ensure that the praise did not inflate the group's egos (in keeping with the over-arching theory of obscurity). Diskomo was released in 1980, and has gone through a number of revisions in the years since.

At one point, The Residents were the single most successful independent band around and even hit the charts in Greece. The enthusiasm lead to the creation of a fan club called W.E.I.R.D. in June of 1981. One of the first things that the new fan club made available to members were genuine segments of the master tape for Eskimo, complete with certificate of authenticity.

Collectors' box edition

Contents of 2021 Eskimo box

A collectors' box set of Eskimo, featuring two single-sided white LPs with fur covering the silent side of each, was planned by The Cryptic Corporation prior to the album's release in 1979, but was originally abandoned in the early 1980s after the delayed release of the Third Reich 'n Roll box set.

The Eskimo collectors' box again entered production in 1986, but was abandoned for a second time shortly thereafter. A limited number of 100 test pressings of the album on two single-sided white LPs were made available to fans later that year through Ralph mail order. These copies did not include cover art or fur covering on the silent sides or labels of the LPs.[1]

In 2003 The Residents authorized the production of a limited edition Eskimo box set by a group of Australian fans, with the group providing original unused wooden boxes intended for the Third Reich 'n Roll collectors sets. Three copies were released, featuring white fur on the labels of one side of each LP, and the other side entirely covered with fur.[2]

In January 2021, Residents fan and collector Jannis Tsakalis began taking orders for a run of fur-covered wooden boxes, designed to house the single-sided Eskimo test pressing discs sold through Ralph mail order in 1986. While these boxes do not contain the Eskimo album, they do include a "Walrus Hunt" hand-puppet.[3] This project follows the belated completion and sale of the extremely limited edition Tourniquet of Roses collectors' box in late 2020. Unlike that box, the Eskimo boxes do not have a set number of copies, instead being made to order.[4]

Eskimo Live and DVD

The Walrus Hunt set design by Ron Davis, 1992

The Residents first thought Eskimo would be suited to a more visual, theatrical presentation shortly after the album's release in 1979, and briefly conceived of a live tour based primarily around the album, but the plan was abandoned due to expense and the complex nature of the project.

In 1992 The Residents began conceptualizing a live touring opera based on Eskimo. The show was never produced, but they commissioned set designs from Ron Davis,[5] who later went on to do set and costume design for Cube-E and Freak Show Live.

This desire to realize the stories of Eskimo in a visual medium would later culminate in the creation and release of the Eskimo DVD in 2002, featuring still images set to a surround sound mix of the original album, with some tracks either slowed down or lowered in pitch.

Track listing

Eskimo DVD, 2002

Original release (1979)

All tracks composed by The Residents.

Side A (20:04)

  1. The Walrus Hunt (3:45)
  2. Birth (4:55)
  3. Arctic Hysteria (5:50)
  4. The Angry Angakok (5:34)

Side B (19:17)

  1. A Spirit Steals A Child (8:55)
  2. The Festival of Death (10:22)

"Classic Series" CD reissue (1987)

  1. The Walrus Hunt (3:45)
  2. Birth (4:55)
  3. Arctic Hysteria (5:50)
  4. The Angry Angakok (5:34)
  5. A Spirit Steals A Child (8:55)
  6. The Festival of Death (10:22)
  7. In San Francisco (2:02)
  8. Dumbo The Clown (2:07)
  9. Is He Really Bringing Roses? (2:34)
  10. Time's Up (2:54)


pREServed edition (2019)

Postcard included with early copies of Eskimo pREServed

Eskimo was remastered by Scott Colburn in 2018 and released alongside Commercial Album on MVD Audio and Cherry Red Records on January 25th 2019 as the sixth installment (if including The W***** B*** Album) in the group's extensive pREServed campaign of expanded, completist reissues of the group's back catalogue.

The pREServed edition of Eskimo features much previously unreleased material taken from tapes supplied personally by The Residents, including a suite of demos and sketches dating from 1978, a twenty minute selection of acapella pieces (highlighting the album's detailed vocals and effects), the group's 1980 single Diskomo/Goosebump (and a demo for "Diskomo"), the group's contemporaneous "The Replacement" (from the 1979 Subterranean Modern compilation) and corresponding demos, "The Sleeper" (first released in 1983 on Residue of The Residents, included here with an extended introduction), live performances, and sketches for the unproduced Eskimo opera.

Track listing

(*) indicates tracks which are previously unreleased.

Disc 1

Eskimo + Bonus Tracks

  1. The Walrus Hunt (3:59)
  2. Birth (4:52)
  3. Arctic Hysteria (5:32)
  4. The Angry Angakok (5:35)
  5. A Spirit Steals A Child (8:46)
  6. The Festival of Death (10:31)
  7. Eskimo (1978 Demo) (14:19) (*)
  8. Eskimo Acapella Suite (20:52) (*)

Disc 2

Diskomo + Goosebump + The Replacement + Bonus Tracks

  1. Kenya (2:28) (*)
  2. Middle East Dance (From 'ICE2') (3:22) (*)
  3. Scottish Rhapsody (2:55) (*)
  4. Diskomo (Demo) (3:00) (*)
  5. Diskomo (7:55)
  6. Disaster (3:51)
  7. Plants (3:15)
  8. Farmers (5:26)
  9. Twinkle (2:01)
  10. Heart In SF (2:08) (*)
  11. I Left My Heart In San Francisco (2:02)
  12. Dumbo The Clown (Who Loved Christmas) (2:09)
  13. Is He Really Bringing Roses? (2:36)
  14. Time's Up (2:56)
  15. The Sleeper (Extended Intro) (3:27)
  16. Eskimo Suite (1982 Rehearsal) (8:22) (*)
  17. Diskomo (1982 Rehearsal) (2:41) (*)
  18. Festival of Death (Live 1986) (4:38)
  19. Diskomo (Live in San Francisco 1987) (3:18)
  20. Eskimo Opera Proposal (5:27)


Eskimo Deconstructed

Eskimo Deconstructed


Mrblue-transparent-sml.png The wiki has a page dedicated to this topic.
For more information, read this article.


On May 31st 2019, The Residents released Eskimo Deconstructed, a "40th Anniversary" compilation of the original elements used by the group to create Eskimo. as a semi-limited double LP package on Cherry Red Records, with a bonus disc including the original "Arctic Field Recording".

Eskimo Deconstructed serves as an extension of both the pREServed series and their 2018 collaborative project I Am A Resident!, allowing listeners to “walk around inside a masterpiece, the viewing angles almost infinite”.[6]

Liner notes

The Walrus Hunt

Walrus hunting in kayaks among the floating ice must sometime proceed in the winter darkness or in a condition known as "whiteout" when atmospheric conditions turn the sky into a virtual mirror of the snow and ice below and orientation becomes difficult. At these times, women on shore blow a large horn made from a giant narwhal's hollowed tusk and chant to give directional orientation to the hunters.

Winter had almost arrived, for the wind had a more pronounced bite in its insistence. The noonday sun sat momentarily on the horizon before hastening back into the icy waters. Floating on the rising winds, the sounds of the narwhal horn and chanting combined to give assurance to the Eskimo hunters. The paddling of the kayak was smooth and steady. Not much light was left and a sleeping walrus could easily hide in the deep shadowed recesses of the floating icebergs.

But wait! There, on the ice... yes, a walrus! A happy but silent discovery. The sling-like harpoon was removed from its leather container and spun rapidly around over the hunter's head until sufficient speed was reached to send it zooming toward its unsuspecting prey. The walrus was hit. Cheers rang out from the men as they all paddled toward the animal which had plunged into the icy sea; but the water offered no protection as the Eskimo men reached for their whale bone clubs and bludgeoned the creature. The walrus floated quietly in the water and the kayaks moved on in search of other sleeping prey.

Birth

Since the most important person in the Eskimo community is the hunter, and since hunters are always male, female infants are ritually killed if there is no infant male who will someday need a mate to cook, sew, and chew leather for him. This social condition adds to the drama of birth.

The pains were coming in regular intervals and she knew that if she didn't start moving now, her legs might collapse under her before she could reach the ice cave. The ceremonial band was already playing birth music and the other women sang in an attempt to comfort her. But as her steps carried her toward the ice cave and the ceremonial band's music became lost in the wind. the true loneliness of her situation loomed even larger in her mind. The gaping mouth of the ice cave eagerly awaited. And although she felt fear, she knew the cave also offered relief from her quickening pains, for this journey had been made many times before.

Her pace remained unchanged as she entered the cave, which now enlarged before her and engulfed her in the sweet music of slowly moving ice vibrating within its own crystalline formations. Deeper into the cave she went. The men were playing the koa and chanting for the birth of a male.

Finally she reached the furthest chamber where stood the Angakok. Delivery began immediately as the magic man filled the room with protective prayers. The child was born. The Eskimo woman reached forth with her hand, gently across the already frozen crust on the infant's belly to feel the child's sex; the other women came into the chamber singing the song of life and bore the infant away.

Arctic Hysteria

Arctic hysteria is a phenomenon that occurs in the dead of winter, primarily to women. The weeks of darkness and general sensory deprivation lead to the eventual temporary loss of a firm touch with reality.

Darkness prevailed everywhere. Beside her igloo, a woman sat in the wind singing softly to herself while beating the snow from her husband's seal fur clothing. Her voice and mind drifted with the soft tones of the nearby koa player. Her song was about her work, but her unfocused eyes revealed a growing distance. The darkness seemed to confine her, and the singing voice seemed not to be her own.

The realization struck! "I am dead, or at least the others believe I am", she thought. Already she hears the pounding of the tribe's hands packing down the snow on her icy grave as they sing their song of farewell. The rhythm of death sounds in her ears.

She felt cold no more as her worst fears were realized. She had been sent to the "Land of the Crestfallen", where only the spirits of poor hunters and badly tattooed women spent eternity snapping at butterflies. But wait! Even worse! Instead of butterflies, the dreaded Arctic locust swarmed into the evening air devouring all in their path.

The men in the tribe had become aware of the woman's hysterical suffering and joined in a circle to sing a chant of releasement. "Chukaroq, chukaroq, chukaroq, ei", they sang, until finally the woman once again returned to beating the snow mindlessly from her husband's clothing, virtually unaware of what had happened as her song of work faded into the wind.

The Angry Angakok

Angakoks, the Eskimo men of magic. are widely held as symbols of mortal power among the tribe. Stories of their feats are very popular at tribal gatherings.

The whales whistled as the Eskimo tribe danced on and on to the lively beat of the ceremonial band. For twenty days they danced. And sang. And prayed. And still the ice floe hugged the shore line preventing the Eskimos from being able to kill their most valuable prey, the large migrating whale.

Anger had been building in the people towards the Angakok who allegedly had the power to remove the ice that was blocking their passage. Finally a hunter challenged the magic of the Angakok with hostile words, and others soon joined him in the traditional taunt of "necki, necki, necki", until the Angakok rose up before them and silenced them with a single cry.

A spell escaped from his lips and the sky darkened. A curse slipped from his finger and the seas swelled. The ice was cracking at last. But that dull roar? The Eskimos looked at one another with fear in their weathered faces. Then it appeared. A "giant snake which stands on the water" wiggled before them with its head in the clouds.

They briefly watched it eat a path through the ice floe, then hysterically ran for safety. But the water spout had one more job to do. The hunter who challenged the Angakok's magic was never seen again.

A Spirit Steals A Child

One of the many strange Eskimo phenomena is the disappearance of children. In such inclement conditions, one can easily understand how this can happen. However, Eskimo mythology speaks of children being stolen by the spirit of the weeping seal, which is half sealed and half woman, and who, because she can have no children, must steal any she finds unguarded.

Pop! the bladders went. Hunting season had been good and there were many bladders to burst. The band played gleefully, eager to get to the next peak in the music so all could explore the inflated bladders the creatures which had fed and clothed the Eskimos all year. Finally, the music ended and everyone immediately ran toward the sea, eager to throw the burst bladders through a hole in the ice so the souls of the animals could return to the sea and be caught again next year.

Because of the excitement, an important Eskimo rule has been broken. A child was left unattended. Tears froze on his cheeks as he stood crying behind an igloo. Suddenly, there was another sound in the wind. A whistle, a bark, a growling whine filled the air around the terrified child, whirling him around in a flurry of ice.

The Eskimo soon returned to discover that the child was missing, and realized the folly of their over-excitement at the bladder festival. The Angakok started a chant to halt the fleeing spirit, but he knew the chant would only delay the spirit of the Weeping Seal's complete takeover of the child. They would have to go to "the world beneath the world" and fight.

Several dog sledges sped away across the tundra, whips cracking at the barking dogs. On the lead sledge the child's father and the Angakok crouched, defending themselves against the blast of Arctic wind. The ride was long and tiring.

As they neared their destination, the men sang a chant and the Angakok spoke a spell. A dog which was brought before him was decapitated, and the head, still containing the dog spirit, was quickly taken down to the netherworld, while the other dogs, smelling the blood of their own kind, howled into the cold night. The Angakok raised the dog head into the air and called forth its spirit to battle the Weeping Seal and force it to return the stolen child.

The two spirits met and intertwined in the air. With the Northern Lights, they danced and sang, and then they disappeared slowly as the men returned to their village in hopes that the child would be there.

The Festival of Death

Perhaps no holiday is more important to the Eskimo than the Death Festival. More than a tribute to the dead, this festival marks the beginning of the yearly cycle by being held at the end of the six month Eskimo night.

Something moved in the dark. A face as tall as a man -- a big, round, evil face wandered at random. More faces and the realization: the dead walk the snow. Whistling and chanting, "We have stolen the sun and you will have to live in darkness".

But the women of the tribe, who were hiding in their igloos, then rushed out shrieking and beating their chests, proclaiming their right as the source of life. The dead spirits were frightened by the women and fled into the darkness.

As the Eskimo band picked up their song, the women gathered in a circle, symbolizing nature's golden orb, and sang a hymn asking the dead to return the sun to the mothers of the snow.

The men, having removed their "dead spirit" masks, joined the women in festive songs and hand-clapping games until, at last, the first rays of sunlight of the Eskimo year began to appear over the horizon, signalling the end of six months of winter darkness. Gratefully, the dead had released their hold once more.

Epilogue

All the stories on this recording are expressed in the past tense. This is because the Eskimo, particularly the Polar Eskimo on which this album is based, was "rescued" from its "miserable" life style by welfare in the late sixties. The Polar Eskimo has been relocated entirely into government housing, and now spends most of the day watching reruns on TV.


Credits

Still from Eskimo DVD, 2002

Release history

Year Label Fromat Region Length
1979 Ralph Records LP US 39:21
1983
1985
1986
1987 Cass
East Side Digital CD
Cryptic Corporation NL
Torso LP
Virgin GR
1996 Euro Ralph CD EU 39:01
1997 East Side Digital US 39:06
Bomba Records JP
2008 Mute UK, EU & US 39:01
2010 Birdsong & Hayabusa Landings JP 39:04
2012 MVD Audio US 39:00
Ralph Records LP
Music On Vinyl EU
2019 New Ralph Too, Cherry Red, MVD Audio CD UK, EU & US 39:15
2021 Radiation Reissues Cassette Italy

See also

Eskimo art by Pore Know Graphics, 1979

Listen online

External links and references

EskimoEye.png Eskimo
(1979)

Side A:
"The Walrus Hunt" · "Birth" · "Arctic Hysteria" · "The Angry Angakok"

Side B:
"A Spirit Steals A Child" · "The Festival Of Death"

Personnel
The Residents · Snakefinger · Chris Cutler · Don Preston

Related works
"Kenya" · "Middle East Dance" · "Scottish Rhapsody" · "The Sleeper" · Collectors' Box series · Subterranean Modern ("The Replacement") · Diskomo/Goosebump · Eskimo Live ("Eskimo Opera Proposal") · Assorted Secrets · Diskomo 2000 · Eskimo DVD · Eskimo Deconstructed

Related articles
Ralph Records · The Cryptic Corporation · Grove St. studio · Poor No Graphics · Dinosaur Productions · N. Senada · Polar Eskimo (Angakok) · Not Available · Chewing Hides The Sound
‎‎‏‏‎

Nsenada-mintgreen-transparent.png The Mysterious N. Senada
(1907 - 1993)
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