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.
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 CorporationWhen 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 tapesIt 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.
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).
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."
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.
Eskimo Live and DVD
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, 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
- The Walrus Hunt (4:01)
- Birth (4:34)
- Arctic Hysteria (5:57)
- The Angry Angakok (5:21)
- A Spirit Steals A Child (8:45)
- The Festival of Death (10:28)
pREServed edition (2019)
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.
(*) indicates tracks which are previously unreleased.
Eskimo + Bonus Tracks
- The Walrus Hunt (3:59)
- Birth (4:52)
- Arctic Hysteria (5:32)
- The Angry Angakok (5:35)
- A Spirit Steals A Child (8:46)
- The Festival of Death (10:31)
- Eskimo (1978 Demo) (14:19) (*)
- Eskimo Acapella Suite (20:52) (*)
- Kenya (2:28) (*)
- Middle East Dance (From 'ICE2') (3:22) (*)
- Scottish Rhapsody (2:55) (*)
- Diskomo (Demo) (3:00) (*)
- Diskomo (7:55)
- Disaster (3:51)
- Plants (3:15)
- Farmers (5:26)
- Twinkle (2:01)
- Heart In SF (2:08) (*)
- I Left My Heart In San Francisco (2:02)
- Dumbo The Clown (Who Loved Christmas) (2:09)
- Is He Really Bringing Roses? (2:36)
- Time's Up (2:56)
- The Sleeper (Extended Intro) (3:27)
- Eskimo Suite (1982 Rehearsal) (8:22) (*)
- Diskomo (1982 Rehearsal) (2:41) (*)
- Festival of Death (Live 1986) (4:38)
- Diskomo (Live in San Francisco 1987) (3:18)
- Eskimo Opera Proposal (5:27)
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”.
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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.
|East Side Digital||CD|
|Torso & Cryptic Corporation||NL|
|1997||East Side Digital||US|
|2008||Mute||UK, EU & US|
|2010||Birdsong & Hayabusa Landings||JP|
|Music On Vinyl||EU|
|2019||New Ralph Too & Cherry Red,||CD||UK, EU & US|
- Eskimoat The Residents Historical
- Eskimoat RZWeb
- Eskimo pREServed edition on Cherry Red Records
- Eskimoon Discogs