Arthur Russell… where to begin. Musically speaking, the guy was a renaissance man, a devastating (de)constructor of music, an amplifier of sounds, and engineer of imaginary worlds. (Deep inhale.) Russell was a formally trained cellist learned in Eastern classical music, an NYC underground music scene mainstay, a fluent mastermind of (mutant) disco singles (“Let’s Go Swimming,” “Is It All Over My Face,” “Go Bang!”), country ballads (Love Is Overtaking Me), new wave (Calling Out of Context), and whatever the hell World of Echo is. The last of which remains his most stirring statement.
World of Echo is an almost-too-personal portrait of a person frighteningly naked. It’s like peeking at someone’s soul through a keyhole. This is blues music for ghosts — a skeletal singer-songwriter blueprint all impossible cello patterns and narcotic, reverberating distortion. It is the most singular and individual of the lasting memories we have of the late Arthur Russell’s genius, though it is certainly not the only deep imprint he left behind. His heady brew of otherworldly compositions, always toying with spatial and temporal dimension, acted (acts) as a mutually beneficial catharsis for both himself and his audience. His music always had the hazy glaze of a dream state, easily lending itself to psychological escape and the capacity to provide an outlet for the moral and social burdens that accumulate during everyday life. In this way, Russell’s music is a therapeutic release of sorts, a purging of internal and external demons that transports the listener to uncommonly beautiful places.
In virtue of his immense variety and perpetually-in-flux approach, Russell showed himself to be an ever-shifting sonic puzzle with a body of work always in motion, always changing and always growing.
On that note, even in death his canon grows. Three new Arthur Russell tracks have been unearthed, and they are good, real good. As FACT report, these songs were spawned from a series of 1985 recording sessions with multi-instrumentalist Steven Hall. The story goes that Russell had been called in to mix and produce Hall’s own music, and ended up dominating the sessions (at least, that is what my ears are telling me). Like everything in his back catalog, these cuts have one foot in another world. The starkly dubby “Foxy Pup” is the most immediately recognizable as an Arthur Russell Product, and the best of the bunch as well.
You can hear “Foxy Pup” below, and stream all three tracks on Hollie Records’ SoundCloud page. “Foxy Pup” will be released on 12-inch via Hollie on April 20.
• Hollie: http://www.hollierecords.com