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Alternative & Indie - Released November 15, 2019 | Audika Records

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Reissue
Legend has it that when Arthur Russell submitted his demos to Warner Bros in 1979, the tapes were rejected by a junior A&R executive with the critical note, "This guy's in trouble." As for his vocals and a general synopsis of his music he wrote, "Who knows what this guy is up to. You figure it out." What Russell was up to with his prolific and multi-faceted music was so far ahead of his time that he would die before being widely recognized as an innovator and a visionary by new generations of fans. Russell died from AIDS-related illness in 1992 at age 40 and spent his short life tirelessly pursuing songwriting and composition that would embrace avant-garde tendencies, radio pop, disco grooves, modern classical, and more. He left behind an impressive official discography and a truly staggering number of demos, home recordings, and other unreleased material. Iowa Dream is a collection of some of these tracks, focusing on demos made for Mercury Records in 1974, but including work from the early '70s until 1985. The collection follows a similar flow to 2008's excellent, country-tinged Love Is Overtaking Me, which also collected unreleased tracks. Russell's work from the early '70s aimed for the commercial success of Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Carole King, and other singer/songwriters that were dominating the charts. Songs like "Wonder Boy," "Everybody Everybody," and the tender piano ballad "You Are My Love" all tend toward this straightforward singer/songwriter vein. Some of the same country-folk twang that shone through on Love Is Overtaking Me continues in the traditionally modeled "I Wish I Had a Brother" and "I Never Get Lonesome." Though it doesn't move chronologically, Iowa Dream does an excellent job of illustrating Russell's hyperactive and genre-bending muse. Experimental tendencies show up on the spoken group vocals and frenetic horn arrangements of "Barefoot in New York," and his solitary post-disco production side comes through on mid-'80s songs like the Talking Heads-ish "List of Boys" and the wobbly filtered bassline of "You Did It Yourself." The rowdy title track begins with vocalizations of farm animals before launching into peppy pop made up of spirited cello, Farfisa organ, and zooming drum fills. The 19 tracks here are all over the place, true to form for Russell and his ever-expanding inspirations. These demos never landed him a major-label contract, but it's hard to imagine what a major label of the mid-'70s or early '80s would have done with music this far ahead of the curve. For all the fans who discovered Russell after his passing, collections like Iowa Dream are bittersweet time capsules, holding new evidence of his one-of-a-kind talents that still occupy a space all their own, even when unearthed decades later. ~ Fred Thomas

Electronic - Released June 9, 2015 | Audika Records

Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Reissue
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. ~ Paul Simpson

Dance - Released October 1, 2001 | Audika Records

An incredible assemblage of solo versions of this influential and unique downtown musician. Arthur Russell's World of Echo contains the songs and instrumentals written from 1980-1986: "Soon-To-Be Innocent Fun/Let's See," "Tower of Meaning/Rabbit's Ear/Home Away from Home," "Tone Bone Kone," "Answers Me," "Being It," "Place I Know/Kid Like You," "She's the Star/I Take This Time," "Tree House," "See-Through," "Hiding Your Present from You," "Wax the Van," "All-Boy All-Girl," "Lucky Cloud," and "Let's Go Swimming." Subtle, transcendental with gentle rock beats and new music influences in patternings and textures. ~ "Blue" Gene Tyranny

Folk - Released October 27, 2008 | Rough Trade

Since 2005, New York City's Audika imprint has dedicated itself to releasing the recordings of the late composer, cellist, and singer/songwriter Arthur Russell, a musical polymath who was as comfortable in the discos of Manhattan as he was in a cowboy hat in the fields as he appears here, on the cover of Love Is Overtaking Me. Audika has issued four albums -- three different compilations centering on different aspects of his musical adventurousness, an EP, and his seminal World of Echo album. Love Is Overtaking Me contains 21 tracks recorded between 1974 and 1990. It reveals another dimension of this seemingly limitless musician: his pop and country-ish recordings, done solo as demos, in session with the brilliant John Hammond at Columbia, and with musicians from the East Village and downtown scenes including Peter Gordon Ernie Brooks, Andy Paley, Jerry Harrison, Steven Hall, Larry Saltzman, Jon Gibson, Jimmy Chamberlain, David Van Tieghem, and Peter Zummo. Some of these are rehearsal versions of tunes he performed and recorded with his bands the Flying Hearts and the Sailboats project with Hall. Russell's companion Tom Lee wrote the liner notes to this set and discusses the sheer possibility for mass appeal in these songs; he's not exaggerating. Take a listen to the demo of the title track recorded with Hall on guitar, drummer Rob Shepperson, and conguero Mustafa Khaliq Ahmed. Its verse/chorus structure is woven straight from classic organic pop/rock melody -- think a less twisted Jonathan Richman -- and is utterly infectious. Elsewhere, in "I Couldn't Say It to Your Face," one can hear traces of John Lennon, James Taylor, and Randy Newman. Recorded by Hammond, this cut featured a full band with Gibson, Brooks, Gordon, Paley, trombonist Garrett List, and bassist Jon Sholle. The melody shimmers underneath a lyric that contains warmth, love, anger, and irony. The very next track, "This Time Dad You're Wrong," with a standard rock quartet, features a shuffling country rhythm under a melody that combines the sophistication of Big Star and the poetic directness of Willie Nelson. The latter is exaggerated a bit on the spoken/sung "What It's Like," but it's a story song and it works. The opening number, "Close My Eyes," is a pure country waltz, with Russell accompanying himself on a guitar -- he was almost as deft on it as he was on cello. These tunes reflect Russell's California origins. But there's the other side too; the New York side in the rockin' "Big Moon" and "Janine," which, though utterly friendly and even beautiful, is a kind of fractured future pop that transcends its form. On "Love Comes Back," Russell accompanies himself with a cheap drum machine and keyboards; he closes the entire argument as to what he was about artistically no matter how wide-ranging his recordings were: he was a composer and songwriter who wished -- and succeeded -- to express tenderness, empathy, and gentleness in everything he did. Russell's music connected with so many of his peers -- no matter what scene they were in -- and with his posthumous listeners for that reason alone. Russell was 100-percent genuine, and as Ted Berrigan once wrote, "on the level, everyday." This is one of the finest chapters yet in Audika's continuing retrospective. Let's hope there is still more where this came from. ~ Thom Jurek

Dance - Released February 13, 2000 | Audika Records

Like Another Thought, released ten years prior, Calling out of Context stitches together an hour's worth of songs left behind by the late, increasingly known -- and therefore unceasingly beloved -- Arthur Russell. According to liner notes from Audika's Steve Knutson, the content here pulls from a finished 1985 album that never made it past the test-pressing phase, along with an unfinished LP that was recorded and toyed with throughout the latter half of the '80s and the dawn of the '90s. Despite the multiple sources, the consistency of the tracks -- which all carry a hazy, memories-of-events-that-never-happened feel -- and the sympathetic sequencing make the disc seem more like a proper album than a vault-clearing compilation. If you're familiar with the sound that Russell and his accomplices made on singles like "Let's Go Swimming" and Indian Ocean's "School Bell/Treehouse," you'll be familiar with the sound here. On these recordings, Russell (who plays cello, guitar, keyboards, and percussion) is joined primarily by Mustafa Ahmed and Peter Zummo, and the three of them produce an abstract cross between pop and R&B, constructed with drum machines and more organic instrumentation on top. None of these songs woo a crowd of dancers as so many of Russell's short-lived aliases did before; instead, they're more rooted in song-based pop. This goes for the structure of the tracks, and it also goes for the subject matter of the lyrics. One of the greatest joys of listening to these songs is the regular presence of Russell's gentle, somewhat timid voice, which delivers one heartwarming line after another. If you're thinking this might possibly resemble a shoestring-budget, avant-garde version of Jam & Lewis, you're not too far off. With the many hats Russell wore, Calling out of Context should hammer home the fact that he was also a dynamite writer of heart-on-sleeve love songs -- not just a formidable cellist and innovative disco producer. ~ Andy Kellman

Alternative & Indie - Released March 1, 2019 | Audika Records


Alternative & Indie - Released April 3, 2002 | Audika Records

Audika Records can't be beat for their efforts to bring the work of composer, cellist, and songwriter Arthur Russell back into the public eye. Russell, who passed away in 1992 at the age 40 from complications due to AIDS, was well-known in downtown New York City circles, but was also a cipher in many ways. While he played on the Talking Heads' first single, he also played and recorded with Allen Ginsberg, made a slew of 12" disco singles -- which were spun at NYC clubs and universally celebrated for their originality -- and performed regularly at the Kitchen. But he was also rather notorious for recording full-length albums of his compositions and, once having had test pressings made of them, left them to sit, never to release them. Legend has it that Russell left over 1,000 unreleased tapes of his music. Such was his way. The reissue campaign of his work began with Philip Glass' Point Music label, which assembled a fine compilation of unreleased material, as well as the original take of "Another Thought" in 1994. The 21st century has been even kinder: English label Soul Jazz released most -- though not all -- of the singles on The World of Arthur Russell, and this label, Audika, has released both World of Echo -- a legendary cult album that featured Russell's voice and cello -- and Calling Out of Context, a collection of unreleased tunes. First Thought Best Thought is a double-disc set that brings together, for the first time, both sets of his Instrumentals compositions. Instrumentals, Vol. 2 was issued in 1984 on the Belgian label Les Disques Du Crepescule. Russell got test pressings of Instrumentals, Vol. 1 (which make up the first ten cuts on disc one) but for some inexplicable reason (he had one, to be sure, but no one else, including Steve Knutson of Audika, knows what it was) it was never issued until now. Hilariously, while it's true that Russell was an avant-garde musician, his works could not have been more accessible. The Instrumentals series, accounting for all but one cut on the first platter ("Reach One" for two Fender Rhodes pianos has never been out before, either) were composed as concert pieces with multimedia in mind. His desire, according to his own notes, was "to stimulate the popular radio sound using drums and combine it with current modes of "avant-garde" musical thought and practice. These earlier concerts tended to focus by repetition on small segments drawn from a very long composed sequence." And while in the first volume he composed using simple harmonic ideas purposely utilizing bass and drums, on the second, he left off the drums. He was interested in movement and sequence, and in his mind's ear, he could hear the sound of popular radio at the time. It's interesting to note that while these pieces are absolutely hummable, they don't suggest to every listener the sound of "popular" radio. They are dreamy, sweet, and full of understated grace and beauty. There is movement, flow, and elegance, but their simplicity sometimes masks the complex rhythmic ideas at the heart of them in the first volume, and the textural and harmonic depth in the second volume, though there are no vocals. In other words, Instrumentals, when taken together, are a humble yet wonderfully exotic soundscape that can be enjoyed over and over again without losing their subtle mystery. Some of the other players on these sessions include David Van Tieghem, Andy Paley, Peter Gordon, Jon Gibson, Ernie Brooks, Peter Zummo, and Jon Scholle, in addition to the composer. Most of disc two is given over to Tower of Meaning, which was released on Glass' Chatham Square label in 1983. This is a large-scale classical work conducted by the late Julius Eastman. There are hints of Gavin Bryars' more formal early work here, as well as harmonic and lyrical ideas suggested by Aaron Copeland, and even Ferde Grofe. The horns play out deliciously long, intricate lines with strange intonations and harmonics. The pieces -- there are seven in all -- end very abruptly, as if the tape recorder were simply turned off in the middle of an idea (no; that's not what happened). The longest of these is over 21 minutes and is the set's closer. These and all the previous pieces are brought to bear here. Once more, while fully classical, this is very accessible work; it floats and asserts itself, but it never, ever meanders. "Sketch for the Face of Helen," that closes out the second disc, is also previously unissued. It features Russell playing some cheesy keyboard, a tone generator, and has the sound of a tugboat and its crew relentlessly chugging in the background; one can hear the foghorns in its drones. Less formal -- and more playful -- than anything else here, it is a bit spooky at first, but it is so clever and good-natured that this feeling is quickly displaced by one of curiosity, perhaps even wonder. In sum, First Thought Best Thought captures a startlingly creative mind that had the power to execute Russell's concepts. He was restless and relentless in the pursuit of his muse; apparently, it was done, and Russell couldn't even take the time to gauge its worth before moving ever forward to the next thing. Thankfully, one now has the opportunity to listen for himself, and take the necessary duration to fall under its spell. Bravo Audika; may you long continue to delightfully engage listeners with strange, beautiful, and quirky worlds of Arthur Russell's achievement. ~ Thom Jurek

Film Soundtracks - Released September 4, 2012 | Audika Records

Alternative & Indie - Released October 4, 2019 | Audika Records

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Electronic - Released June 21, 2013 | Wilde Calm Records


Rock - Released October 12, 2005 | Audika Records


Alternative & Indie - Released September 27, 2011 | Audika Records


Indie Pop - Released September 25, 2002 | Audika Records

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. ~ Wilson Neate

Alternative & Indie - Released October 18, 2006 | Audika Records

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