Eskimo and Sons is breaking up and, if you'll excuse my saying so, the time might be right.
Shortly before midnight on Saturday, September 6, on the stage of the Towne Lounge, when the band lets the last crescendo of their final show swell to bursting before decisively letting it go, taking their three-year-old project with it, they will have a lot to be proud of. In its short life, Eskimo and Sons has become the poster band of a certain sing-along corner of the Portland house show community, proudly raised the Boy Gorilla label "Do It Together" banner to new heights, drawn admirers into its expandable ranks as it ballooned from a quartet into a nine-piece brass-bearing gentle juggernaut of orchestral folk pop, and released a promising EP.
But along the way, they outgrew the limits of their origins and discovered that their potential is both greater than and qualitatively different from what they had initially imagined. Via email, primary songwriter, guitarist, and co-vocalist Dhani Rosa intimated that by breaking up, Eskimo and Sons will essentially be sloughing off their larval skin—disbanding only to re-band under a new name, with a different, grander (and possibly soul-inflected) sound, free of old baggage and associations. He feels that the songs Eskimo and Sons rode to basement prominence are basically insincere: "Like, little lyrically acrobatic songs meant to gain some kind of emotional reaction out of the audience that was made up. Never to get an emotional reaction from myself. So when we started gaining all this momentum, it was built on that. Playing these meaningless things." He thinks he can do better, and has already begun to do so with the latest batch of Eskimo and Sons tunes.
And I completely agree. Though I had seen them before and found them pleasant, the handful of times I've seen Eskimo and Sons play this summer, I've been swept off my feet. In the process of playing "Let 'Em In" by Wings, and "Man on the Frontier" by LA-based sister band the Red River—two midtempo, hope-filled tunes they have covered live lately, putting the original versions to utter shame—Eskimo and Sons seem to have learned something about their own musical strengths. They have begun to move beyond the hushed tones of their EP and embrace their gift for in-the-pocket exuberance and dynamic variation. The new muddle of festive horn stabs, handclaps, and string ornamentation provides spectacularly talented vocalist Danielle Sullivan with the larger, livelier backdrop that her exquisite, heart-melting voice has always deserved.
Some bands are at their best in their undeveloped infancies. Eskimo and Sons is not one of them. Over time they have become more ambitious, richly orchestrated, confident, honest, and, for all of that, better. They are a great band on the brink of writing great songs. If Rosa needs the ritual cleanse of ending this incarnation of the band to unleash the creative impulses that have been guiding this recent, precipitous and positive growth, then I'm all for it. Lately Eskimo and Sons shows have been things of bittersweet beauty, and you would do well to see them at this climactic moment. Whether the band is at a definitive stopping point, a pivot point, or a point of total transformation, something is ending—and we are lucky to be able to enjoy it one last time.
Eskimo and Sons perform at the Crystal Ballroom on Thursday, September 4 and at the Towne Lounge on Saturday, September 6.