Calling Out Of Context, by Arthur Russell
Suggested by Liberty Dent
Arthur Russell, the cellist / composer / singer / producer, died in 1992 at the age of 40, due to AIDS-related illnesses. At the time of his death, he was relatively unknown and almost penniless.
It’s sad, when someone dies before their time. It’s particularly sad when it’s the death of an unheralded and destitute artist, one who’ll never see the true pleasure their work will bring to the masses. It’s the clichéd Van Gogh Syndrome, though I prefer to use Stieg Larsson. Never has the phrase “gone before their time” been more apropos.
While Arthur Russell had a limited career before his death, it wasn’t until after that he gained a more widespread acclaim. Documentaries have been made, songs have been covered, and his genius has been recognised. He left behind a lasting legacy, both in the body of work he’s released and in the hundreds of tapes and compositions he left behind.
Despite being lauded as a genius with incredible influence on dance, disco, dub and experimental music, I’d never heard of Arthur Russell. Calling Our Of Context is a compilation album of previously unheard tracks, released in 2004 to widespread critical acclaim. So it should be a fine jumping-off point to dive into his lake of creativity.
The first track is The Deer In The Forest Part 1, which is a twinkling organ frippery over gentle winds and strings, a full ninety-five seconds that, admittedly, does conjure up the image of a woodland critter frolicking in a pastoral glade. It’s pleasant enough, but it’s largely formless.
To be honest, that’s the album in a word… Formless.
Each track is an electronic amalgam of disparate synth sounds in a variety of low-key and unassuming styles, over which Arthur sings with a signature high-range and discrete vocal. There’s a lot of echo effects going on, and a certain unassuming breathlessness that could be described as gentle and alluring, but that could also be described as random and confusing. It places, it sounds as if the singing is mere free-form train of thought, with an incomprehensible melodic core. At other times… at other times, it sounds the same, but with a different effect plastered on.
I’m a firm believer that structure, in any creative endeavour, is a vital key to unlock the door to hidden depths. This album is so devoid of structure it might as well be a pallet of bricks and a bag of cement. It feels like the whole thing has been made up on the spot. Considering these songs were cribbed from tapes that contained hundreds of slight variations and mixes of each, I suppose it’s a considered skill to appear so slapdash.
My favourite track is I Like You!, partly because it uses an exclamation point, but mostly because it sounds like a robot in love. Even something that charming can’t make me muster up more than a score of 4/10 for this album. Being charitable, I’ll admit that it’s impossible to judge someone so prolific on a single album, and if Kanye likes him enough to sample a track, who am I to argue?