Arthur Russell’s beautiful ghost returns with Corn

It’s hard to describe to a newcomer exactly what Arther Russell does that’s so ineffably unique. He’s a cellist, composer, and otherworldly disco producer who crafted some of the strangest and most deeply affecting music the world has ever known. His singing is deeply felt, vulnerable, and nothing like any classic vocalist.

Arthur Russell was unforgivably ignored in his lifetime, but I am so thankful that the massive body of work he kept to himself has been thoughtfully collected and released in the years since. He may have died before I was 10 years old, but he’s now one of my favorite musicians ever.

Arthur Russell

The man’s brief career began in the 70s collegiate avant-garde scene, collaborating with Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Rhys Chatham, and most notably, Allen Ginsberg, accompanying the beat poet’s live work on cello. He moved into the gritty New York disco scene and crafted some of the most alien dance singles of the era before finally crafting his own masterpiece. World Of Echo, a solo journey of vocals, cello, soft percussion and electronic effects, is the only full album released during his lifetime, as Russell died of AIDS in 1992, nearly broke.

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Aphex Twin – asiatsana [live]

It’s been an amazing week for Aphex Twin fans and everyone else with open ears. Still digesting Syro, I feel compelled to share this clip. It features a piano on a swing.

Asiatsana, rendered on prepared piano, sends the listener off on glistening waves of heartbreaking beauty. This spare sound echoes around chirping birds in an ancient, solitary space that Richard D. James gently inhabits on rare occasion (see also: Avril 14th or Jynweythek Ylow).

There are a couple interesting things to note about this tune. First, the name is his wife’s – Anastasia -rendered backwards. That’s easy enough. Secondly, “prepared” simply means that something has been done to a piano to create specific, idiosyncratic sounds for a given piece of music. Sometimes objects are placed on the hammers to mute or otherwise modify their tone. In this case, RDJ has swung a piano on a giant harness to bend pitch via the Doppler effect. It’s gorgeous. It’s over the top. It’s perfect, as far as I’m concerned.


This is a somewhat recent photo of Richard, looking far less crazy than I’m used to. I’m not worried about him going boring, though. I’m sure he’s still got tits and a satanic grimace on the inside!

Remember, you can buy Syro from Warp and probably everywhere else on the internet. Just listen to it. New Aphex Twin music exists!

In Heaven [mixtape]

So I made another mix.  Close friends have heard it, and I feel it’s time I shared it here. This was an attempt to capture my outlook right now.  Or then, rather.  There are distinct first and second halves, and I feel that the latter could be a “healing” side.  It’s definitely a warmer, rising sensation.  There’s more than that, but the sound is what matters.

It’s called In Heaven.  Download it here.

In Heaven by Optimisticunderground on Mixcloud

These are some of the most profound and beautiful songs I’ve had in my life recently.  Some of them are old favorites and some are fresh discoveries.  The mix pivots closely around two sides of this.. thing.  It tells a story.  There’s flying, falling, dreams and fears and something lurking always in the background.  I know no one else feels the through-line in all of this like I do, but I hope you feel something real and enjoy the journey.  I will post a full track list in the comments shortly, but for now I’ll take guesses.

The sun is rising

The ocean is shining

We are smiling

It’s getting better

It’s time for action

Time for action

– Yoko Ono

Here are my other mixtapes.

Jimmy Scott – Sycamore Trees

One of my favorite jazz vocalists ever, “Little” Jimmy Scott possesses an unusually high and beautiful voice due to a rare genetic disorder which stunted his growth and prevented the occurrance of puberty and the vocal changes that accompany it.  Starting out in the 1940s singing for bands led by Lionel Hampton and Charlie Parker, he had a career often obscured by credit slights and contractual shenanigans until fading back into civilian life in the late 60s.. only to resurface in 1991 after his performance at the funeral of friend rendered listeners speechless and raised his name in important circles.  His first comeback album earned Grammy nominations and he’s been steadily recording and touring to this day at the age of 86.  My introduction personal introduction was thanks to the impeccable taste and foresight of David Lynch.  Performing a song written by Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti, Jimmy Scott appears in the bizzarre and wonderful climax of the singularly brilliant Twin Peaks.

I’m in a time crunch on route to a long day at work so I will have to edit and elaborate tonight.  I need to get this out and have you hear it so I’m hitting Publish now.  I’ll also share one of my favorite Jimmy Scott releases in the near future.  For now, enjoy.

Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein

2001: a Hip Hop OdysseyCannibal Ox dropped one of the greatest albums in recent history and then promptly vanished.  It’s possible the group was simply too incredible to exist; the universe self-corrected, erasing the extraordinary anomaly.  It’s a bit of a shame, but we have no place to complain when we’re blessed with this singular document of gravitationally scaled hip hop ferocity.

The Cold Vein is that rarest of creatures: an album that scales incredible heights both lyrically and instrumentally, stimulating all musical pleasure centers at once.  Vocal interplay between Vast Aire and Vordul Mega is a perfect dance between partners with different strengths, complimenting each others’ style every step of the way.  Throughout the record, they’re wrestling for control of the shambling, electro-crunch futuristic monster that is El-P‘s monumental production.  This lumbering beast rears its multifaceted head into the atmosphere via the first track’s sci-fi laser synthesizers and keeps pushing through uncharted territory with every minute consumed.  Feeling at times crunchy and nasty as the deepest early RZA work, a la Liquid Swords, the record’s more of a Transformer, flipping expectations and subverting comfort.  The surfaces constantly shift below Vast & Vordul’s feet, erupting in action-funk horn blasts, spacey organ bursts, complex breakdowns where the whole spectacle threatens to break loose and fly apart..  then it’s reigned in by these dueling aural lion tamers.  Combining cutting insight with surrealist connective tissue, the vocals flaunt every previously held rap paradigm.

Cutting through near-scatalogical Kool Keith-tinted non sequiturs, and the dystopian settings of Deltron 3030 (or Can Ox forebears Company Flow), are the surprisingly confessional moments embedded throughout – showcased in particular by the psychological turmoil of The F-Word and Stress Rap.  The one lyrical preoccupation easily identified is the emphasis on power, ambition, loss, survival, and pre-apocalyptic tension.  While not original in any conventional sense, it’s the way these themes are spun through nerd-genre sensibilities that lends weight and intrinsic appeal.  Like the best comic book and science fiction flicks, all the fireworks and metaphysical effects are merely tools aiding in the comprehension of universal truth and personal revelation.

I ain’t dealin’ with no minimum wage, I’d rather construct rhymes on a minimal page.”  This album is for dreamers and thinkers, unsatisfied with the state of the world, angry about the machinations of politics and culture, the stifling of creativity, the snuffed out aspirations.  It’s fuel for those striving, hoping, and fighting for a better place – even if it’s mental space.  Real Earth follows, after all.

[get your hands on this at CD Universe, with their list of relevant & worthy albums, or amazon of course]

Billie Holiday – Lady In Satin

Billie Holiday is a true-blue goddess. This is not debatable opinion; it is straight fact. Her interpretations and originals are some of the most enduring recordings in modern popular music. Her voice lacerates soul and body alike and has been known, on occasion, to reduce grown men to tears. Her spirit is defiantly eternal.

Her final recorded work is Lady in Satin.


Billie’s last official recording, this is one of those albums that, if given time to prepare for nuclear war or asteroid strike, would be hermetically preserved in an armored bunker for posterity. It would be used as a template for emotional artistic expression in the future. This is both a certifiable classic and a contemporary, cutting document of heartbreak the likes of which have not been rivaled in our time (as far as I know).

Each song on here is a definitive statement of love and the pain tied inextricably to it. Each track is a journey though a dark night with the faintest candle providing light at the end. Each moment is stamped with the hard-earned wisdom of failure and regret and unshakeable longing. A listen though this circa-1958 LP reveals how precious little anyone has added to the book of love in popular music in the intervening years.. in many ways, it’s a more nuanced, mature statement on the subject than 50 years of accumulated love songs have provided. Of course, I’m biased. Anyone intimately familiar with this album has a right to be.

[amazon has a reissued cd version with bonus material. but if you can acquire a vinyl copy, by all means follow through. a recording like this rewards turntable listening.]