When I was growing up just outside Chicago, my indoor cats used to shed in reverse seasons. It made perfect sense in context, because they’d spend their summers pressed against the air conditioner and their winters asleep on the radiator. But there were times when my musical preferences reminded me of my cats. I’d want to listen to classic summer music–surf instrumentals, Motown, Springsteen mumbling about a “barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain”–sometime around mid-February. On the hottest day in July, the record I couldn’t get out of my head was the chilliest music I’d ever heard: the Residents’ sprawling 1979 opus, Eskimo.
Two decades of blandly comfortable coastal California weather have made most of my summer listening preferences decidedly more conventional. But as I sat down after a glorious Independence Day barbecue to bang out a summertime playlist, I felt an uncontrollable urge to put on the Residents’ faux-arctic anti-classic once again. Newly re-released for 2008 notwithstanding resident spiritual adviser N. Senada‘s vaunted theory of obscurity, Eskimo remains a complete tour de force, a soothing and menacing soundscape with more nuance and subtlety than my two other favorite Residents albums, Third Reich ‘n Roll and the Commercial Album. And if Eskimo‘s insertion of pseudo-Inuit advertising jingles for Coca-Cola and other products may have seemed like harmless goofiness when the record was released, it seems very prescient in 2008, with the future control of the rapidly warming arctic heating up as a political issue. Considering that the National Snow and Ice Data Center is reporting even odds that the North Pole will be iceless this summer for the first time in modern history, I can only hope that three decades from now, I won’t be listening to Eskimo for its wistful nostalgia.