Tuesday, August 28, 2012
GOD'S LITTLE ESKIMO Dives Of Lazarus
The second God’s Little Eskimo album, “Said The Owl To The Mouse”, arrived in January last year and was distinctly arboreal. The third, “Dives Of Lazarus”, is out this week and is distinctly marine. Or rather submarine. If “Said The Owl To The Mouse” mimicked the jaunty scurrying of nocturnal woodland creatures or the sweeping flight of owls, “Dives Of Lazarus” follows the slow, graceful arc of denizens of the deep, most explicitly on ‘Leviathan’ in which surging, majestic piano suggests the gentle poise and power of the whale ("joyous and fearful"). Piano appears (almost) consistently on each of the half-dozen songs here, another departure from the previous album, but the mood of whole is closer to sparse atmospherics and minimal instrumentation of ‘Goodbye Great Auk’ from the 2011 album.
‘An Island’ is an impressionistic ten minute suite that alternates intense and airy sections with just piano and octave-shifting voice like the hovering then soaring sea-birds it sings of. It is so engrossing the duration is unnoticed. ‘Sea Mist’ combines piano, bass and bowed saw in a hauntingly atmospheric, not-quite-jazz-noir instrumental ending in long wave radio crackle. The song without piano (or maybe it is snuck in somewhere) is the opening track, the dream-like ‘Scapa Flow’. This begins with the ping of sonar but is constructed mainly of multiple, echoing vocal harmonies to relay the watery fate of a sailor (“torpedoes slammed our sides / no time / no time at all”).
But what really makes this collection so compelling beyond the judiciously spare arrangements and poetic tale-telling is the confident use of John Eskimo’s richly timbred voice. If the instrumentation and atmospheres tend to aquamarine chill, his voice is warmly emotive and alive even at its most poignant. The closing eight-minute ‘Dives Of Lazarus’ like ‘Scapa Flow’ is another song foregrounding John Eskimo’s voice front and centre, here with only minimal accompaniment from autoharp, guitar and wine-glass chime. All are used delicately for a deeply moving tale of a dead man making his grave beneath the waves “crabs scuttle along my spine / now a marble bridge from A to B / seahorse caper through my bones / the males rest pregnant at my side”. This spellbinding conclusion to the album similarly scuttles up your backbone.
God’s Little Eskimo appears as reticent and shy as some of the ghosts and creatures he sings about. I only discovered his real name via an obscure Dutch psych-folk site before spotting it modestly in copyright small print on the album sleeve. I remember his name on a poster several years ago but am not aware of him playing live recently and he has very little active social media presence other than some You Tube videos and an irregular blog. But on this record his presence is utterly alive and intimately real despite singing of the dead and decaying. On that blog he says this is the “third and final God’s Little Eskimo album”. A damn shame if this comes to pass. “Dives of Lazarus”, his best record so far, is a haunting triumph of imagination and execution. I cannot recommend this self-produced collection of eerie elegies highly enough.
God’s Little Eskimo Dives Of Lazarus [BUY]