new music: eska’s self-titled debut is the beating heart inside the machine #soundcheck

May 6, 2015

There’s something very old about Eska’s music. Almost ancient. Despite the very-now synths and digital sweeps, her music harkens back at once to Medieval plainsong, chant, folk, and giant wooden early industrial machinery. Her debut self-titled album jumps from abandoned stone temples to deep forests to block parties to dancehalls to opera halls, sometimes in the span of a single song. Each song has been carefully constructed to sound like nothing else in the world.

By Nathan Leigh, AFROPUNK Contributor.


Songs like “Gatekeeper” and “Rock of Ages” and “Boundaries” have something deeply spiritual about them without nodding much to any specific religious tradition. Here again is that oldness, that earthiness. Eska’s voice has an incredible range. She can switch from hushed and soulful to an unearthly wail without skipping a beat. Few singers have such an expressive instrument at their call, fewer still have such control over it. On “She’s In The Flowers,” Eska conjures a Medieval ballad; the British songstress re-appropriating the sigils and banners of Shakespeare’s London for her own purposes before launching into “Shades of Blue,” a song that sounds like Donovan by way of Janelle Monae. (I didn’t realize until listening to this song that a Donovan / Janelle collaboration was something I needed in my life, but now I know…)

On “Heroes & Villains,” Eska takes a left turn for dub, stretching her vocal range to its bottom limits. It’s a testament to the kitchen-sink aesthetic she cultivates that the stylistic turn feels totally of a piece. The switch also allows an emphasis on her lyrics, which here express a weariness with the “us or them” narrative that permeates all modern political discourse. “Make a war on terror / Terror is taking its war out on me,” she sings before hitting the chorus “we can talk about them / heroes and the villains / here until the day is almost over.” The closing tracks “To Be Remembered,” “Dear Evelyn,” and “So Long Eddy” fit together as mini-requiem suite. On the three most beautiful songs on her debut record, Eska eulogizes the people that have come in and out of her life—whether by death or simply losing touch. “So long strangers, lovers, and friends / Like clouds drifting over / Heaven knows skies always change.”