The record label Audika has a single-minded yet admirable pursuit: releasing and properly reissuing all of the available recorded output of avant-garde-pop cellist and songwriter Arthur Russell. They’ve already reissued Russell’s most famous work—the haunting World of Echo (1986)—and assembled immaculate compilations that showcase certain periods in his prolific and varied career: Calling Out of Context (2004), a collection of sideways synth-pop recorded between 1973 and the artist’s death in 1992; First Thought Best Thought (2006), which contains various new-music pieces; and Love Is Overtaking Me (2008), an incomparably infectious hodgepodge of country-leaning singer-songwriter material. Next Tuesday, June 9, Audika will present Corn, the latest addition to Russell’s continuously growing, posthumously released body of music. NPR is streaming the whole album, and today’s 12 O’Clock Track is “Ocean Movie,” the final song on the album.
Consisting of material recorded between 1982 and 1983, Corn loosely connects Russell’s avant-disco work with his bands Dinosaur, Loose Joints, and Dinosaur L; the music on Calling Out of Context; and some of his wiggly, new-classical pieces on First Thought Best Thought and World of Echo. For that reason, it might end up being the best primer to Russell’s music (though I’d still vouch for The World of Arthur Russell, a concise and nonetheless comprehensive retrospective released by Soul Jazz in 2004). Much of the music feels like extended jams, with puffy, hard-hitting electronic-drum beats, funky bass and keyboard additions, and of course, Russell’s pinched, Muppet-like singing and echoing, scratchy cello playing. “Ocean Movie” is an instrumental work, with dubby, splashy keyboards, percussion, and effects slapping up against a spacey, groundless keyboard loop and Russell’s meandering, screwy cello. If the album is one long journey to the beach, this is the sound of running into the ocean and crashing into the water. Listen to it below.