Despite the fact that I woke up with a different Eskimeaux song stuck in my head more days than not this past week, it’s a challenge to articulate why. Not that the phenomenon is completely unexpected; with its catchy melodies, clever production, and pure vocals, Eskimeaux’s O.K. provides immediate and satisfying rewards. But the degree to which the straightforward-seeming songs engrain themselves in waking and in sleep begs further excavation. And what you find in that digging—what makes the album good in a way that’s hard to explain—are a whole lot of things that shouldn’t belong together.
Eskimeaux, the Brooklyn-based project of songwriter Gabrielle Smith, has delicately woven an album of subtle oppositions. Though it’s rooted in the craft of folk and rock songwriting, most of the music manifests in various shades of electro-pop. The pure, almost childlike voice is at odds with the refined emotional clarity of its messages, and the dreamy music and lyrics seem to contradict the fact that they’re actually quite grounded and accessible. These and other dichotomies shift throughout, merging in different combinations from song to song and verse to verse in surprising but seamless transitions.
This delightfully strange mix is apparent from the first notes of the album, in the opener, “Folly.” Beginning with Smith’s clear voice and the strumming of a high, jangly guitar, the early moments of the song present the illusion of pure folk, which is shattered after about five seconds by the reverb-heavy drum loop. Later, a distorted guitar comes into the mix along with a full drum set, building the first of the many gratifying eruptions that Eskimeaux engineers so well. And throughout it all, Smith maintains an atmosphere of eerie fantasy.
The second tune sets a very different tone. Entering with a bubbly synth line and hummable melody, “Broken Necks” presents as pure, feel-good synthpop. But by the song’s quiet conclusion (“Nothing in this world is holier than friendship”), an underlying ache emerges. The catchy chorus, “While you were breaking your neck trying to keep your head up / I was breaking my neck just to stick it out for you,” tells the story of struggling and ultimately failing to make a relationship work. It takes real skill to create a breakup song that’s simultaneously so upbeat and so devastating.
O.K. dips in and out of the up-tempo pop of “Broken Necks” and dreamier, more somber moments, tied together by the consistent threads of Smith’s voice, her abstracted-yet-vulnerable songwriting, and—despite the DIY origins of the Epoch, the arts collective Smith and her bandmates cofounded—the music’s polish. These are the elements that draw you in and keep you coming back. It’s the experimental and contradictory current underneath, however, that stays with you—and stays with you stubbornly, if my past week is any indication. But, hey, if you can’t get something out of your head, it might as well be this intriguing.