Arthur Russell: World of Echo

Arthur Russell: World of Echo
(Upside, 1986)

World of Echo, the only solo full-length album released by avant-garde cellist Arthur Russell during his way-too-short lifespan (1952-1992), is a hands-down classic piece of music, and a transcendental listening experience to boot.

Born and raised in rural Iowa, Russell moved to New York City in the early 1970s for musical education, and ultimately became a fixture in the city’s vital downtown loft circuit, and he was even appointed as musical director of the artsy hotspot The Kitchen. Highly involved in New York’s bourgeoning punk, jazz and disco scenes, Russell literally worked with everyone, was all over the place musically, and particularly made a name for himself on dance floors with his various pioneering projects (Dinosaur, Loose Joints).

World of Echo is something else entirely, mainly consisting of Russell’s bowed and percussive cello and his dreamlike, echoey vocals, with some additional electronic effects. It’s a mediative and minimalistic masterpiece, suspended outside of time and space. A bit distant or hazy at first as the songs ebb and flow in no strict particular direction, repeated listens will unveil its beauty in full. Embracing ambience and textures in favor of beats, it’s akin to equal parts Nick Drake and Philip Glass. And no matter how intimate and personal this is, it also resembles the heyday of the New York underground, the vast cornfields of Iowa, transcendental meditation and deep dub.

The echoes of this album haven’t faded at all, and still can be heard around the world in all its quiet glory.

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