Release Date: Oct 21, 2014
Record label: Yep Roc
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Global pop stars, wonky pop producers, experimental folk artists, indie-dance bands and the like queuing up to pay musical tribute to a man who spent much of his short lifetime searching for artistic and commercial success? The irony would not be lost on Arthur Russell. During an interview for biopic Wild Combination: A Portrait Of Arthur Russell, US composer Philip Glass made the comment that in the mid to late '70s, his friend had "felt in his bones that he was destined to have a larger audience than he had at that moment." That observation came over ten years after the death of Russell from an AIDS-related illness aged just 40.
It's both wonderful and frustrating that so much of Arthur Russell's music is incomplete or open-ended. Russell supposedly left behind something like a thousand tapes, many of them not-quite-finished recordings or variations on particular songs, when he died from AIDS-related complications in 1992. He was one of the great geniuses of New York City music—a brilliant melodist and even better catalyst who brought together the Downtown experimental music scene, the disco world, and the singer/songwriter tradition.
Few knew the wildly eclectic cellist-composer Arthur Russell’s music when he died from AIDS in 1992 – but in the 21st century, he has experienced a renaissance that’s taken in his many sides. This two-disc covers set bravely attempts to capture them all. Robyn and Hot Chip re-create the ebullient joy of Russell’s disco productions, while Devendra Banhart and Phosphorescent find the quiet heart of his ballads.
It has certainly become de rigueur for modern musicians to name drop avant-garde musician Arthur Russell as a musical influence. The pioneering downtown artist’s masterful and inspiring back catalog was once the preserve of musos and disco aficionados but here, on Yep Roc’s tribute compilation, the likes of Jose Gonzalez, Hot Chip, Devendra Banhart, and more interpret Russell's wide and diverse oeuvre for the Red Hot Organization for AIDS and HIV awareness. Instead of taking inspiration from Russell's own ingenuity when it comes to songwriting and craft, most of the acts apply their trademark sounds to their chosen tracks without adding or enhancing the original version.
Arthur Russell was an obsessive man. Cursed by the need to record near running water, he would leave an empty fishtank gurgling in the background of his home studio at all times. Unable to finish a mix of a song to his satisfaction, his New York apartment was littered with thousands of tape reels of songs in various stages of completion, test-listened on a Walkman during walks through the bustle of the New York neighbourhood he called home.