Arthur Russell
World of Echo
2004
B+



originally recorded in 1986, World of Echo was Arthur Russell's attempt to reconcile his life as a producer/player/innovator in the New York dance/club scene with his background as an Iowa bred, Cali-schooled experimental cellist. Spare and idiosyncratic, Russell's World is woven entirely out of processed cello sounds (plucks, strokes, knocks), and his own evasive, suede tenor/baritone, which is sort of like if Nick Drake was a big, hollow tree rather than a sliver of light. Russell had commented that "in outer space you can't take your drums—you take your mind," and the half-dreams contained on the record are informed strongly by rhythm, but a subtle, internal rhythm that verges closer to a celestial synchronicity rather than the sweaty, pelvic bombast of the dance floor.

What stands is an architecture that nearly a decade later still appears fantastic, implausible, and above all, fresh: Russell's tapestries of electro-acoustic syncopation and free-associative song can still be heard in the delicate sparkle of what we call IDM and minimal techno as well as the self-exploratory silk sarong and smoke resurgence of bucolic psychedelia and freeform acoustic music. It’s a dauntingly intimate album, and not like heart-on-your-sleeve, burning-the-midnight-oil intimate, but like wandering with trepidation into the sweltering infinity of imagination's omega intimate- that is to say, intensely so. Sadly, the gravity of the album is even stronger in retrospect; Arthur Russell surrendered to AIDS in 1992, leaving World of Echo as his parting document.

Less a collection of songs and more an undulating meditation, the record has recognizably distinctive parts, but a generally undifferentiated feel. It sounds often as if Russell is improvising, a child meandering down the road after school singing aimlessly and without haste, each shuffling step disappearing behind him in a distorted swirl, each pebble kicked producing another metallic, reverberant knock. The twitching, bleached-out, blissed-out informalities of the music are complemented by the elliptical words that pour from his mouth. Rubbery mantras like "baby lion goes where the island goes" stretch out into indecipherable hums, plaintive single syllables seeking asylum in a nocturnal abyss. The lyrics are simple, but feel obscured: phrases like "I am hiding your present from you," or "schoolbell, treehouse" twist slowly into other words and vocal sounds, transformed into being either profoundly meaningful or meaningless (depending on your groove, dig?) by the hallucinatory exercise of repetition and aural free-association. Being baptized in Russell's stream of consciousness is an exhilarating experience, that, similar to having your face thrust under water, can also feel impossibly foreign and demanding.

In the end, Russell's exploration created Yet Another Green World, a warm, intoxicating landscape of hologram trees, vaguely sweet-smelling chemical fogs, unrecognizable shadows flinching in the periphery of vision, and rustling bushes of glass, all contained under imperceptibly pulsing constellations of frequencies in a vacuumed-out sky of static wind—a world only available to brave alone.



Reviewed by: Mike Powell
Reviewed on: 2005-01-11
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