Who It Is: eskimeaux — O.K.; Double Double Whammy (2015)
What It Sounds Like: Frankie Cosmos, Sharpless, Told Slant, Mitski.
O.K., the most recent electro-pop effort of Gabrielle Smith’s recording project eskimeaux, is much more than just okay (this is the only bad pun, I promise). Soaked in synthesizer with soaring vocal melodies and catchy acoustic hooks, this is the most unabashedly radio-friendly release Smith has yet put out. This offers a nice contrast to her self-titled album, which feels dark and drone-y with even more synthesizer and a cranky, glitched-out drum machine.
As a founding member of the Epoch, a reputable music collective based out of Brooklyn, Smith seems to draw more influence from her peers as eskimeaux emerges from the bedroom as an almost-conventional band. Felix Walworth’s signature drum gallops feel somehow aggressively understated, lying lower in the mix than they might on a Told Slant record but still providing the album a huge dynamic range. This phases in and out with electronic beats in the same songs, ultimately functioning the same as her previous percussion layers in older albums but offering a shift in texture that points toward a new direction in Smith’s recording process.
First, it’s important to understand O.K. as Smith’s attempt to reimagine her “not a real album” demos from Igluenza in a proper studio. In this same shift from dark-and-drone-y to what could almost be umbrellaed under “indie pop,” Smith’s musical achievements seem to culminate in this most recent release: no longer hiding behind the obscure lyrics and damp electronics of her previous albums, O.K. revels in its simplicity. For Smith, this works wonderfully.
This simplicity translates into a pretty singular song format. Most tracks introduce themselves with a sing-song hook backed by a single guitar or synth, before they segue into a full gooey drone cushioned by crispy drums, real or fake. While this is exceedingly functional and has provided a stable format for some of my favorite releases this year, it does begin to get repetitive around “Sparrow” as the billowing introduction of the full band behind Smith’s vocals and guitar becomes more than expected. While this structure occasionally falters, tracks like “Folly” feature such incredibly nuanced lyrics and production that it becomes an easy flaw to overlook. As she moves away from the drone-y mysticism of her previous releases, Smith’s songwriting becomes not only more memorable but more honest.
The tension between the indie-pop aspects of O.K. and the more expected heavy synth bits feel like a negotiation between Smith’s own background and her position within the Epoch. Smith’s friends and influences are equally experimental but hold a more live-show friendly instrumentation. Pieces of melody circle around these influences (e.g. the sing-song sincerity of “The Thunder Answered Back” is extremely reminiscent of Bellows), and as Smith grows musically she begins to embellish upon these influences while maintaining that synth-drone identity that her listeners have long-appreciated. As Smith repeats in the closing track: “we’re not the same, but that’s okay.”
You Should Probably Listen To: “Broken Necks,” “I Admit I’m Scared,” “Alone at the Party,” “That’s O.K.”
Overall Rating: 9/10