Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Arthur Russell - Calling Out of Context

Arthur Russell is one of those musicians who I came across only recently, and couldn't imagine why I hadn't encountered years ago. Frequently name-checked in lists of music by eccentrics and outsiders, Russell (1952-1992) was known as a disco musician and also a cellist who collaborated with such countercultural giants as Philip Glass, David Byrne and Allen Ginsberg. In February, a documentary film on Russell, Wild Combination, was released.

Calling Out Of Context, a 2004 compilation of Russell's more dance-oriented work, is the first of his albums that I've come across, and I'm absolutely addicted to it. I was surprised to find that it was a compilation, given the way in which it hangs together perfectly as an album, both musically and in terms of emotional palette.

The album consist of synthy, dance-beat-oriented, reverb-drenched eighties art-pop melancholia. A reviewer's description, 'New Order meets Nick Drake,' isn't too far off the mark (given the general inadequacy of shorthand description by comparison). Though there's a definite pop flavour, and echoes of more pop-oriented eighties acts like New Order or even the more introspective moments of Jimmy Somerville's work, the songs are not pop songs as such; rather than traditional verse-chorus structures the listener is presented with sometimes-inaudible, haunting phrases drifting in and out of a musical landscape. Indeed, rather than a collection of songs, it's a landscape that's created here, or perhaps a marine-scape (given the frequent references to water and the feeling of the liminal, of surface and depth); a place in which one finds oneself adrift...

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