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  • Filed under: Review
  • 01/22/2013

Eskmo Terra

It would be an understatement to claim that Eskmo's undergone quite the metamorphosis over the years. The California-based producer’s early releases dabbled in sounds across the electronic spectrum, including drum & bass and assorted futuristic breaks. But nowadays, most associate Eskmo with the wider West Coast beat scene, thanks in part to well-known efforts like 2010's "Cloudlight," an enjoyably off-kilter exercise in beat scene-meets-dubstep-styled production that appeared on the expansive Ninja Tune XX compilation and the producer's self-titled LP that same year. The release of 2012's Language EP heralded another change in the California-based beatmaker's sound, including a heavier focus on vocals and a toning down of low-end elements, but the record didn't quite resonate with many listeners. Now, Eskmo stands poised to delve into sounds of a different, quieter sort with his latest offering, the seven-track Terra EP.

Despite being named after the Latin word for "earth," Terra often doesn't feel very firmly rooted or grounded when taken as a whole; its sound is dominated by skyward cascades of atmospheric synths, and even its rhythms—replete with fills and unorthodox patterns, when present—can sometimes seem to meander a bit. In fact, the vocals on each track, which are just as heavily programmed as the beats themselves, tend to be the only constant; the instrumentation of songs like "Shadow" and "We Are All Terrestrial," for example, swirls and morphs beneath repeated mantras that don't appear to expand further than saying the name of the song. While this technique can get a tad repetitive, it works because these incantations don't try to supplant the beats; they instead try to fall into the mix as just another element. Eskmo's voice also shines the most when used sparingly, as Terra's attempts at deeper lyricism (combined with the sometimes annoying Auto-Tune-like effect that coats the vocals) fall flat. One such attempt, "Giant," features lyrics that get so wrapped up in their own surrealism (mentions of "powdered cloud drops" and allusions to "the shoulders of giants" abound) that they nearly overwhelm the song with new-age cheesiness.

If anything, Terra's finest moments happen when Eskmo finds a median between elements of his old and new production styles. "Push and Pull," the best example of this balancing act (and arguably the best track on the EP), is true to its name, featuring an aggressive push in the form of punishing staccato low end that grapples with and eventually yields to calm, atmospheric synth sweeps. The vocals are kept to a minimum, aside from the occasional surfacing of a short "push, pull" refrain. "Buffalo," the album's opener, is also worth mentioning in this respect, as it nearly strikes a similar balance via a hard-hitting, driving drumbeat that plows its way through a thick haze of synth melody, but the song ultimately suffers from its vocals (wistful, Auto-Tuned repetitions of the word "buffalo"), which seem a bit out of place and a tad too prominent in the mix.

Taken as a whole, Terra is a little underwhelming, which is disappointing when one takes its meticulously crafted drum patterns and lush atmospherics into account. While it's well produced from a technical standpoint, it just feels a bit flat, as though Eskmo is trying too hard to keep his listeners guessing.

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