The brainchild of singer/songwriter Kristian Leontiou, [lastfm]One eskimO[/lastfm] arrives with an impressive breadth of imagination that instantly marks them as something extraordinary. The London-based band’s Shangri-La Music self-titled debut is an ambitious and affecting collection of widescreen modern pop, alive with iridescent textures and intricately created songcraft. Songs like “Hometime” and the buoyant “All Balloons” are moving and expressive, touching upon such universal themes as love and heartbreak, success and failure. As if that weren’t enough, the release comes in tandem with a full-length animated film. One eskimO’s unorthodox self-visualization only serves to add idiosyncratic color and character to a beguiling musical work already abounding with invention and emotion.
One eskimO’s striking sound and presentation can be traced back to 2004, when Leontiou first hit the UK Top 10 with his solo debut single, “Story Of My Life.” His album, entitled “SOME DAY SOON,” proved equally successful, selling more than 200,000 copies and catapulting the soulful young singer to pop success. But, the experience left the gifted young vocalist strangely unfulfilled, as if he were merely a spoke in the great wheel of music industry marketing.
The idea for One eskimO began to gel on a long flight home after a promo tour for Leontiou. Rather than continue on the same unsatisfying path, Kristan did something both brave and rare – he walked away from success to create something he could be proud of. After some R&R, Leontiou reached out to drummer Adam Falkner and the two began writing songs and developing a distinctive new sound. “We wanted to create something really cinematic and dreamy,” Leontiou says. “We wanted to create a magical world of our own.”
Sonic inspiration came from a variety of diverse sources, from The Beatles and The Fugees to Massive Attack and UK hip-hop/folk duo Nizlopi. Bassist Jamie Sefton and guitarist Martin Waugh were brought in to complete the group, which then spent long hours in rehearsal, building a multi-layered foundation with largely acoustic instrumentation.
“As we rehearsed,” Leontiou says, “we tried to see what, between the four of us, we could each bring to it. Jamie does all the horn parts as well as the bass; Adam plays melodica and several other things, literally several….. The attitude was if the sound works and there’s a hand free then we’ll make it fit.”
One eskimO set to work at Rollo Armstrong’s (Dido, Faithless) Islington studio, ark, with engineer Phil Brown (Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin) assisting. Basic tracks were laid down quickly, with the following year spent crafting the album’s intricate electronic textures.
The resulting release is perfectly formed and ineffably beautiful, with songs like “UFO” and “Kandi” (featuring an indelible chorus sampled from Candi Staton’s classic “He Called Me Baby”) elevated by heartbreaking melodies and shimmering sonics. As the album took shape, Leontiou put his mind towards crafting a visual presentation that would equal the music’s warmth and invention.
“We wanted to create something quite beautiful and the idea eventually came to present One eskimO as a group of animated characters. The idea all came to fruition when Leontiou met Nathan Erasmus and Matt Latchford of Gravy Media, a London-based independent animation collective, through some friends. “We wanted it to look like old style animation ala Snoopy or the British holiday classic, The Snowman,” Leontiou says, “but with a modern twist. I think that’s true of the album as well. At its core, it’s an acoustic album, but brought into this age with all the delays and sounds we’ve layered on top of it.”
With little more than a shoestring budget at their disposal, One eskimO and Gravy Media produced two short films to accompany the songs “Hometime” and “Kandi.” “Hometime” soon proved a sensation, receiving numerous honors at film festivals around the world, not to mention a 2008 British Animation Award. The song was also later featured in Toyota’s environmentally aware “Why Not?” campaign.
The success of “Hometime” led to animating the entire album, which at the time was but a “pipe dream” for One eskimO. Using the songs of the cd as a template, a narrative slowly came into shape. The story revolves around the central character of One eskimO, an adventurous and determined young man seeking his place in the universe. He is accompanied on his adventure by his bandmates, Giraffe, Monkey, and Penguin. Every hero needs his villain, in this case Mr. Top Hat, a mysterious stranger who, like a puppet master, pulls unseen strings to drive the characters’ destinies.
“It’s a bit of a life’s journey, really, Leontiou explains. I think for any artist, ideas naturally come from parts of what’s going on in their own lives. It’s just about taking those parts and putting a different twist on them.”