Writer David Stubbs imagined back in 1987 that one day “it will be possible to dance quickly and furiously to World of Echo.” Said futuristic dancefloor has not yet materialized, but Arthur Russell has, after a decade, obfuscated. Parallel worlds of his loose disco joints and pop-your-funk songs already extant, this reissue of a 1986 solo album for voice, cello, and echo-o-o-o makes for his third 2004 release. It’s his most miasmic and most transparent, but above all, transcendent.
Familiar dance tracks get clarified to reveal the tone-poem koans beneath: “All-boy, all-girl,” Arthur murmurs coyly, his voice amorphous, androgynous, bobbing between such worldly distinctions. As Russell’s mumbles jumble fragmented filaments into blurry medleys, his affected cello enunciates with fuzzy fricatives and slippery sibilants. Sighing subtly, elsewhere growling, it shadows the fragile, reflective songs, buoying them in near beatless dub space; the loopy mantras are articulated even as they refract.
Two videos by composer Phill Niblock accompany the aural beatitude, with extreme close-ups of arm-hair shadows, fingertips at play, chin stubble, and eyes that even in darkness shine with the mylar light of a miracle. Arthur’s in some imaginary faraway-type place—maybe the locus he hints at on “Hiding Your Present From You” where “you know where it is, but don’t know where it is”? Where better to conceal this gift than in the ever unwrapping present?