sun 07/03/2021

CD: Arthur Russell - Corn | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Arthur Russell - Corn

CD: Arthur Russell - Corn

The multidisciplinary bohemian's unreleased music remains a rich seam

Corn: not corny

The story of singer-songwriter-cellist-composer Arthur Russell is tragic and life-affirming in equal measure. A Zelig-like figure, from his corn-belt beginnings he glided through underground scenes in the 1970s and '80s, collaborating with everyone from Alan Ginsberg to Talking Heads to Philip Glass. Though he died aged just 40 in 1992, he directly inspired everyone from the early pioneers of house music to current luminaries like Sufjan Stevens and Hot Chip.

The story of singer-songwriter-cellist-composer Arthur Russell is tragic and life-affirming in equal measure. A Zelig-like figure, from his corn-belt beginnings he glided through underground scenes in the 1970s and '80s, collaborating with everyone from Alan Ginsberg to Talking Heads to Philip Glass. Though he died aged just 40 in 1992, he directly inspired everyone from the early pioneers of house music to current luminaries like Sufjan Stevens and Hot Chip.

When I interviewed his biographer Tim Lawrence for theartsdesk in 2009 it was clear that interest in Russell's work was continuing to rise, and that shows no sign of abating. A tribute album packed full of leftfield stars was released for AIDS research last year, Russell's own collaborators have just been selling out concert halls worldwide performing his minimalist Instrumentals, and the flow of amazing unreleased material from Russell's archives shows no sign of abating.

While his work touched on pop, country, minimalism, devotional drones and a dozen other things besides, this collection focuses on the avant-garde dance sensibilities that have so inspired house and electronic producers ever since. These are mostly different versions of previously heard tracks, but how different they are: the borderline industrial version of “This Is How We Walk on the Moon”, for example, could almost be another artist. Even when things are close to previously released material, it's still a joy: “See My Brother, He's Jumping Out (Let's Go Swimming #2)” feels like not just a logical continuation of “#1” but a natural unfolding of a much larger fabric of endless possibilities.

Throughout there are ticking drum machines, Russell's cello processed into everything from a digeridoo to a box of electronic wasps, oodles of dubwise echo, and always, Russell's voice – soft but never fragile, innocent but never infantile. Many of these tracks are clearly at demo stage, rescued from the miles of reel-to-reel tape that entangled his apartment. But even now in the digital age, a Russell demo is more advanced than 99 per cent of artists' finished products. This is the sound of true genius humbly going about its work.

Even now in the digital age, a Russell demo is more advanced than 99 per cent of artists' finished products

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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