Arthur Russell

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Corn Review

by Paul Simpson

Corn was the name of an Arthur Russell album originally intended for release in 1985, but it was rejected by his record label and never made it past the test pressing phase. Tracks recorded for the album eventually saw release on some of Russell's numerous posthumous releases, including Calling Out of Context and Springfield, two of the more accessible items in the Russell catalog. Audika's 2015 release of Corn isn't a long-awaited pressing of that mythical album; instead, it's an album of previously unreleased solo recordings from 1982-1983, culled from the thousands of hours of tapes Russell left behind. The tracks here clearly have the feel of being loose demos and sketches, almost entirely consisting of Russell's voice, cello, and rudimentary keyboard and drum machine. The songs that ended up on the underrated Springfield release don't sound drastically different here, although "See My Brother, He's Jumping Out (Let's Go Swimming #2)" has an awesome burst of horns at the beginning, and instrumental "Corn" appears here twice, including a ten-minute version. Much different are the tracks that eventually surfaced on Another Thought; brilliant songs "Keeping Up" and "This Is How We Walk on the Moon" are guided by upfront drum machine beats here, losing a lot of the subtlety of the previously released versions. Corn's final two tracks are previously unheard, and fall closer to the vocal/cello experiments of Russell's 1986 solo masterpiece World of Echo. "They and Their Friends" is simply his abrasive electric cello and free-flowing vocals. Instrumental "Ocean Movie," the most avant-garde piece on the album, has a strange bitcrushed texture, along with splashing water sounds and hypnotic cello and keyboard, and bits of trombone blurting away in the background. It's utterly bizarre and fascinating. Unlike Love Is Overtaking Me, Audika's revelatory 2008 release of his country/folk-pop leaning singer/songwriter material, Corn doesn't feel like a previously unpublished chapter of the Arthur Russell story. Instead, it's more like a welcome set of new notes for fans who have read the book cover to cover several times.

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