Arthur Russell, Calling Out of Context

Andy Battaglia

By Andy Battaglia

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
One of the key players of ’80s downtown NYC gets a beautiful memorial.

A forgotten luminary who had been all but lost to history, Arthur Russell was a strange, ethereal artist who haunted downtown New York from the late '70s until his death from AIDS in 1992. His recent critical resurrection was ignited for his experimental disco, but Calling Out of Context shows him in a mellow mode somewhere between his dance music and his avant-garde cello work. Most artists would have a hard time making sense of such disparate callings, but Russell's beautiful music always sounds guided by something a little different than usual. "The Platform on the Ocean" features little more than drum machine and some simple guitar static, but Russell's ghostly voice makes it sound epic as he drifts out in a sea of echo. The would-be pop hits "Arm Around You" and "Make 1,2" trade in drum and synth sounds that smack of the '80s, while weirder highlights like "You Can Make Me Feel Bad" and the title track sound closer to timeless. The thrills here prove more soft and subtle than they do in his disco, but like all of Russell's music, Context sounds so intimate and ceremonial that it's both exhilarating and a little eerie.