Album: Arthur Russell

Calling Out of Context, Rough Trade
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The Independent Culture

Arthur Russell, who died in 1992, is one of pop's more intriguing footnotes. As co-founder of Sleeping Bag Records, he helped to popularise the whole hip-hop sampling aesthetic through mid-1980s releases by such as Todd Terry and Mantronix. But there was another side to Russell, an avant-garde cellist schooled in Western and Indian classical music, who long ago recognised the connection between disco rhythms and minimalist drones. His neighbour Allen Ginsberg marvelled at Russell's desire to compose "Buddhist bubble-gum music", while Philip Glass admired his unusual style, which involved singing along as he played cello. Tracks like "Deer in the Forest" and "Arm Around You" feature hesitant, stuttering organ lines soothed with lowing strings or driven by breakbeats, with Russell offering breathless ruminations before chipping in a trombone solo. "Platform on the Ocean" sounds prescient over a decade later, with his echo/delayed vocal repeating the line, "I looked down and saw the fish" in a tone of mild wonder, over an itchy shuffle breakbeat and electronic throb. The ocean imagery continues through to the title-track, where waves of electric cello lap against a guitar and conga groove, while Russell muses on perception. A fascinating precursor to today's ambient/chill-out exponents.