The Oberlin Review

Hackneyed Songwriting Plagues Eskimeaux Set

Danny Evans, Arts Editor

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Despite enthusiastic stage presence, solid audio and an obviously practiced four-piece lineup, Eskimeaux, the recording project of New York-based musician Gabrielle Smith, did not impress at the ’Sco last Friday night. As the headliners of this year’s orientation show, Smith and her live bandmates Oliver Kalb, Felix Walworth and Jack Greenleaf squandered their opportunity to win over a room packed with incoming first-years by failing to stand out from hordes of similar lo-fi rock acts.

Based on Smith’s older records, she might have played a set that would fit snugly into the ambient and drone genres, or at least contain trace elements of these styles. Disappointingly, the songs she offered adhered more closely to indie clichés. Throughout the show, the absence of more experimental material — namely, songs Smith released in the era before her most recent album, May 2015’s O.K. — could be felt.

Eskimeaux’s performance was not remarkable, but it wasn’t terrible, either. The problems with the show lay more in the content with which the band chose

to represent itself. Eskimeaux’s mixture of washed-out, ethereal production and a relatively developed pop sensibility made the project special in the past: Records like 2010’s superb Ixsixán exemplify Smith’s trademark songs-obscured-by-fog style. Tracks from O.K., which made up the majority of the show, ran together to the point of disinterest. Many of these songs,

which the band often confusingly chose to play one after another — see “The Thunder Answered Back” and “Everything You Love” — share one predictable structure and have basically indistinguishable drum lines. Mixing in some older tracks might have done wonders for the band in terms of retaining audience attentiveness.

Eskimeaux’s ambient layer was absent at the set Friday, though, and Smith’s songcrafting skills have never been deft enough to merit a more traditional pop presentation of them. The lack of a droning noise component throughout the set didn’t clarify or define Smith’s sound, as she perhaps intended; rather, it simply placed the unoriginality of her chord progressions and the drabness of her melodies front and center. The band simply did not have the energy to make a set made up of songs all written in the same vein interesting, even given that it performed those songs passably.

Opener All Dogs, which hails from Columbus, Ohio, did not do much to help Eskimeaux’s case. Indeed, they accomplished the opposite by playing a relatively unoriginal style of indie rock that only served to highlight how derivative Eskimeaux’s newer music is.

Unfortunately for Smith and her bandmates, All Dogs’ set was actually more appealing than Eskimeaux’s due to its punkier attitude. All Dogs’ lyrics appealed on a more intellectual level than Eskimeaux’s, too. Just compare All Dogs’ nuanced look at self-sustainability in the context of a romantic relationship in the song “Say” (“When you are not around / I still have something to say”) to Eskimeaux’s irritatingly wholesome single “Broken Necks” (“Nothing in this world is holier than friendship”). As a whole, All Dogs served as just another example of why Eskimeaux flopped: Like plenty of other bands, their music sounds like Eskimeaux’s — but better.

Eskimeaux’s set did not contain any clear red flags; in fact, the band sounded like more of a cohesive unit than one might have expected, given that Smith records most of her parts on her own. However, the songs played could have easily been written by a number of other artists with better results. It’s no coincidence that Frankie Cosmos comes to mind as one group that has fashioned superior bedroom-recorded hymns of the same vein: Smith has worked with that group, who are also a solo project-turned-fullband, in the past. Maybe Frankie Cosmos is the reason why Eskimeaux’s set failed to excite. The former — alongside closely related band Porches, which also features Eskimeaux collaborators — played the orientation show last year far more successfully with nearly identical content. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that Eskimeaux’s set ended up feeling like a bland facsimile.

 

 

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