Brendan Angelides may be of the famed beat collective Brainfeeder at this point, but he is not from it. The San Francisco-based musician has been releasing music as Eskmo since he first started releasing homespun 12” singles and CDs over a decade ago. These early songs are marked by a clear focus on dancefloor functionality; even as late as 2005’s “Cliffside” single, there was a heavy emphasis on a rhythmic pulse rather than mood or song structure.
The evolution from a straightforward breaks DJ to someone easy to mention in the same breath as Flying Lotus wasn’t an overnight shift. On 2007’s “Jetski” 12”, you still have the breakbeats of old, but an intrusive bassline careens through the song, setting the stage for later songs like “Speaking in Tongues” and, ultimately, this first full-length on a proper label. It’s been a long trip to get here, one that’s included a Brainfeeder performance with Nosaj Thing, remixes for Bibio and Voodeux, and labels like Planet Mu and Warp. It would be unfair to say he hasn’t tried to take advantage of the honored position of Ninja Tune’s first release following their 20th anniversary celebrations. This album is cluttered with ideas.
And that, I think, is the problem. For a little while, Eskmo’s willingness to incorporate glitch, dubstep, breaks and a treated-vocal pop style, à la Matthew Dear, works well. The first third is one of the best in an increasingly crowded landscape of Brainfeeder lifers and leeches, perhaps as good as Cosmogramma. “Cloudlight” stutters to life with a ton of sounds in very clipped breaths, Angelides burying his own voice in a beat that includes everything from a bubbling liquid sound to crashing cymbals to phasing synths to a maraca to who knows what else. Yet it still feels open in the best traditions of these beatmakers. “We Got More” takes garbage can percussion and marries it to a gritty synth sound as Angelides reiterates the central point of the album, We got more / than we did before.
No kidding. Even by “You Go, I See That,” you’re starting to see that the restraint just isn’t there, and rather than being an asset, it starts to become a liability. As a listener, you pretty much have Eskmo pegged by halfway, and it’s disappointing that there aren’t any sonic curveballs in the second half. “Starships” is as much of a throwback to his early material as you’ll find here. Beyond that, there are some very good songs (“Siblings” is beautiful but subtle), but the lost momentum is never really recovered. You just feel worn out amid the (too) similar-sounding beats and electronic tricks Angelides keeps dishing out.
I feel the same way about Black City as I do about this album. Both are confident steps forward and Eskmo sounds like he wants to marry the Brainfeeder beat to pop in the same way Dear wants to marry techno to pop. On this release, he hasn’t quite gotten it together yet, but the potential remains for something truly new. For all the fuss surrounding Steven Ellison and the haphazard LA hip-hop scene, that’s not something one can easily say about many others on the scene at the moment