If you’re scared of intimacy, and if you admit as much, can you still live a life of love? Bigger yet: Is it worth overcoming that fear for the sake of love alone?
Unfortunately, no one can answer that except for the person feeling those fears. Opinions will conflict. Duh. But in the case of Eskimeaux, the songwriting and production project of Gabrielle Smith, it is worth overcoming—or at least trying to.
On last year’s full-length, O.K., Eskimeaux confronted love and what it would mean to become vulnerable, to offer yourself up to intimacy when it has the power to snap you. This year, she’s confronting those very worries from the perspective she feared—that of someone who had their relationship shattered—on EP Year of the Rabbit. It’s as if she’s found herself stuck no matter what she chooses to chase or embrace. Love strains the heart regardless of armor built around it. There’s no way to win, but in that, there’s no way to lose, either.
Eskimeaux sings about power dynamics in inadvertent ways: refraining from opening a window for fear of the world flooding in, using the silent treatment as revenge for a broken relationship, spending a day alone to refuel. She’s learned that power is the tool which decides which direction a relationship is steered. If you have enough determination, that power can be yours, and you don’t have to be cruel with it either.
In an ideal world, dominance would be used to create positive change. But we’re human, this is Earth, and the world runs on one tank of negativity and one tank of goodness. Power positions allow too much strength. It’s easy to fear letting your guard down then, to find yourself at odds with the world at large and not enough tools at your side to prepare for it, to become a rag doll in a room full of hands. Eskimeaux’s music runs with just enough speed to keep from getting caught, a rag doll with enough stuffing to jog all day. Though Smith’s voice is flushed and rich with falsettos, it churns with determination, the delivery of someone who fears being hurt, who finds herself hurt, and who’s trying to heal that hurt at the same time. So songs like “Year of the Rabbit” and “Power” become the tools she, and all of us, grasp for in times of need but can never seem to locate. They’re words sung in harmony, tales that can get us through pain even if we can’t stop the bleeding altogether.
This is what you have to do when you realize you’re always alone, even when you’re technically not. Smith is a songwriter who treads confidently by herself. As if to contradict everything we learned in math classes, her delivery as a solo artist is stronger than anything that could come from a full band. It’s soft and observant, traits used to detail someone who’s weak but, when seized properly, can do more damage than imagined. By creating music through one set of eyes, her stories become more detailed. That’s a strength through and through. By watching the world around her and staying quiet for most of it, she builds up a fire inside of her and breathes it out coolly, sharing embers with all in front of her. It’s not anger. It’s warmth, and it empowers those who find themselves frail in similar ways.
Year of the Rabbit refers to the Chinese year in 2011, but it also becomes a subtitle for Eskimeaux’s own transformation. The EP boasts the empowerment of introverts and the weaponry of quiet reflection. It’s a collection of songs where “WTF” isn’t a punkish title but instead a call-out that’s totally earned. “Bulldog” becomes a sleeping creature with dreams worth clinging to, dreams of empathy.
That defiance in solo songwriting extends from Eskimeaux to Japanese Breakfast and Christian Holden of the Hotelier. All three join forces for an all-ages show that demonstrates the accessibility, benefits, and strength of choosing to accept you’re all that you’ve got—and that doesn’t mean you should hide from everything you’re not. Perhaps the biggest thing to fear isn’t intimacy or the ability to be hurt, but rather whether or not you’re willing to let someone else exert mental power over you. Strengthen your mind as an individual. Now is the time for a solo round. Prove you can handle anyone, even love, all by yourself.
ESKIMEAUX, JAPANESE BREAKFAST (SOLO), CHRISTIAN HOLDEN (OF THE HOTELIER). SUN 12.18. MIDDLE EAST UPSTAIRS, 472 MASS. AVE., CAMBRIDGE. 1PM/ALL AGES/$12. MIDEASTOFFERS.COM.