Songs They Never Play on the Radio: Arthur Russell

It’s questionable now that you would in actuality never hear this Arthur Russell song on the radio. Not so long ago many an eyebrow would have been raised at the notion that you might, but in the time since I first knowingly heard him on 2008’s superlative Optimo (Espacio) mix Sleepwalk (never mind his death in 1992) his popularity seems to have grown exponentially. The song on the Optimo mix was ‘This Is How We Walk On The Moon’, and even on that strange, nocturnal, hypnagogic record (a record that I would happily call one of my favourites) it stood out as particularly otherworldly. Russell’s processed cello lollops and grooves, his voice both insistent and placid; the whole song is somehow utterly spaced out and intimate at the same time. That Russell spent time in a Buddhist commune and would practice cello in a wardrobe (albeit nearly two decades before this recording was made) makes perfect sense when hearing this song alone - it seems to embody its harmonised contradictions.

In June a new compilation, Corn, will be released on Audika Records. The preview track, ‘Ocean Movie’, sounds nothing like ‘Moon’, or Russell’s country-infused singer-songwriting material, or his ground-breaking disco work. And it’s clear that Corn's release isn’t a result of desperate picking at the last scraps of his oeuvre, such is the extent of his unreleased archive and its richness. It’s highly unusual for one to wait with baited breath for the release of ‘new’ material by an artist that has been dead for over twenty years, and many people are (this writer included). Where would he be by now? Way past the moon, that’s for sure.

‘Corn’ is released on Audika Records on 9 June. The album from which the above song is taken, ‘Another Thought’, is available on CD on Audika and double LP on Arc Light Editions. ‘Sleepwalk: A Selection By Optimo (Espacio)’ is available on Domino Records.

Andrew R. Hill