Arthur Russell


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Cynics might level charges of barrel-scraping against Springfield, Audika's fifth archival Arthur Russell release, which features unfinished material and alternate versions of available tracks. However, to characterize these works in progress as inessential misses the point that, as an artist famously devoted to reworking and revising, Russell focused on the creative process, not the end product. That ethos resonated in the styles he explored, eschewing conventional, well-wrought forms or a narrative movement toward closure. He gravitated to disco's emphasis on open-endedness, rhythm, repetition, and being in the moment; by contrast, on 1986's spacy World of Echo he pursued a more oceanic fluidity. Springfield incorporates both tendencies. The title track (one of Russell's final pieces) appears in three guises: an unfinished eight-minute rendering and a brief fragment, plus a DFA mix. Russell's full-length original marries beats and synth with his minimalist combination of reverbed tenor vocals, sawing cello, and slurring horns; the DFA's treatment doesn't transform the track but rearranges the order in which its elements emerge, also giving those elements sharper definition with space between them. Originally intended for the unreleased 1985 Corn album, versions of "Let's Go Swimming" and "Hiding Your Present from You" dramatize how much Russell reworked his material: here, prominent dance beats drive these numbers, whereas their subsequent incarnations on World of Echo are hushed and ethereal. Other Corn tracks are similarly intriguing: for "You Have Did the Right Thing When You Put That Skylight In," Russell abandons the dancefloor, distorting his cello to heavy metal proportions over a no-nonsense 4/4 beat; with its pulsing rhythm, primitive Casiotone, and droning cello, "Corn #3" evokes the hypnotic, motorik glide of Neu! and Harmonia. Releasing an artist's work posthumously isn't always advisable. Notwithstanding occasional gems, musicians rarely leave behind studio recordings amounting to anything more than sonic footnotes for obsessive completists. That's not the case with Russell, though, as Springfield amply demonstrates.

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