This ‘Arthur Russell’ review was written by Omar Alavi, a GIGsoup contributor.
Were we to call Arthur Russell the daddy of modern sampling and experimental music we would not be too far off from reality. After you have gone through the phases of half-smirks, eye-rolls, what-the-heys you sit yourself down and you listen to the enigma not to try to figure it out but to just roll with it for what it is. Yes folks, enigma here is well defined as a conundrum and you better just have some perspective! Like admiring a painting sitting on that perspective bench a few feet in front you gaze and observe the totality, you come to the conclusion that a great painting often is a series of little nuances hidden for you to uncover. That is what Corn is! An unfinished Picasso, a series of images given on paper napkins by the great artist, it may not be but it attempts to be. However, as Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen once famously quipped at Dan Quayle, “you are no John Kennedy!” Let’s leave it at that.
Corn is a collection of unfinished tracks and sounds that Russell sampled during his career but was not able to finish before passing away at age 40 in 1992. From that standpoint the influences of the late 70’s disco, 80’s electronica and modern classical are unmistakable. The challenge was to put them together as a cohesive album – hard task and harder still when you reach inside and are forced to give meaning to something that came out in bits and pieces. The tracks are, at best, elegantly mixed demos.
A wonderful array of instrumentations awaits as you feel light inflections of North Indian ragas in Russell’s vocals possibly as a result of training with “North Indian classical music at the Ali Akbar College of Music and Western composition part-time at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.” The musical sounds ranged from classical strings to post-apocalyptic jazz to straight out pop to hard-edged rock n roll thrown in with a hefty dose of echo and distortion.
Lucky Cloud is a solid rock n roll track with pop trappings – driving disco beats and guitar solos. With its demo feel the song features scat singing which is simply there to embellish the instrumental nature of the track. While Corn stands apart from Keeping Up it is in fact part of the 3rd track with similar musical themes weaved on synth distortion and viola against a quick heavy beat pattern. Midway through, the song turns on its head and gives off a trance vibe.
See My Brother He’s Jumping Out (Let’s Go Swimming #2) reverberates with heavy synths to a Disco I Feel Love percussion theme that changes direction to canvas a Middle Eastern musical pattern.
This is How We Walk On The Moon puts out an apocalyptic feel with blaring trumpets against a subdued high hat beat. The treatment of the track frequently delves into Jazz with an interplay of keyboards, synthesizers and strings.
Corn (Continued) generates an ethereal atmosphere much different to Corn (Part 1). Looping the trumpet-high hat beat nexus as a backdrop Russell unleashes a montage of instruments in an unusually sparse arrangement consisting of bongos, electric guitars and synthesizers. The track ends in distortion which transposes most disconcertingly into Hiding Your Present From You (HYPFY). Broken into 3 parts the track moves away from the Corn (Continued) theme into chants. It is clear that HYPFY is made up of three incomplete musical patterns loosely stitched together through sound editing with disastrous results and is easily the least effective of all tracks.
They And Their Friends on the other hand is the spiritual center of Arthur Russell’s Corn with Monk chants and hymns echoing against an extraordinary adornment of electronic static and electric guitar distortions. Ocean Movie brings up the rear and is merely an appendage to the previous track.
The Audika project to compile Corn seems more an exercise to consolidate Arthur Russell’s work for posterity rather than to make an attempt at creating a serious album. Profit seems not to be a consideration. For that alone Corn is worth a listen or two. The fragmented genius of Russell is not for a wide audience in fact it’s not even for an audience per se. The album seems destined to be found in sound libraries of producers, arrangers, mixers and DJs to sample and to be used in the mixes – of course with due royalties and credit.
Corn is interesting to rate. Were Arthur Russell alive this album of sound and incomplete musical samples would not have been made. From the inception of this project this much was clear that the compilation would have very little commercial interest. Yet the producers went ahead with this ambitious endeavor and painstakingly stitched together the bits and pieces to come out with an amazingly cohesive album. The mixing is top notch. Once the scope of the album is determined to be limited it becomes a phenomenal archiving project.
‘Corn’ is out now on Audika Records
The full track-listing for ‘Corn’ is as follows…
1. Lucky Cloud
3. Keeping Up
4. See My Brother He’s Jumping Out (Let’s Go Swimming #2)