There’s something wildly life affirming about this song, and it’s not the title lyric. It’s the pure sound of it, the melody played out in chiming bells and wordless coos. It could be the centerpiece of a hit pop song, but it’s buried in the gothic fire of Swans‘ best album.
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.
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.
23 Skidoo were born skirting the fringes of post punk, industrial, funk and dub, a nearly peerless realm infrequently visited by A Certain Ratio, Throbbing Gristle, and This Heat. Twisting these genre elements through a strangely appealing recombination act was just the beginning of what the band means; it’s a coldly academic observation neglecting the warmly aggressive, primal energy bursting through the sonic capillaries of every piece they wrought. Honestly, the only act I could consider a true musical neighbor are the willfully radical legends The Pop Group. This is a remarkably good thing.
First of all, Seven Songs is 8 tracks long. That’s the first clue about the contents of this enigmatic, quintessential release – like The Pop Group, their modus operandi was grounded in subverting expectations and twisting them into something altogether surprising, thrilling, and a little bit scary. The limitless ingenuity spread across these 32 minutes constantly pulls the rug out from under the listener, encouraging fleet feet and an open mind. Unexpectedness, in this case, means welcome change and otherworldly juxtapositions, with the comfort of a trail guide who – despite a melange of insanity – knows exactly where he’s taking us.
Articulated noise pulls straight into a gutteral dub beat and tribal percussion stabs while the band cuts in and out with all manner of wordless vocal bursts and sheets of guitar noise on first cut Kundalini, laying the foundation for a record every bit as catchy as it is obtuse. Next off we’re treated to a skittering drum kit and funkadelic guitar, touchstones of Sly & Robbie infused dub, and one of the most ‘conventional’ moments of the album before dropping through the trumpet accented drone abyss of Mary’s Operation, leading directly into the asterix of a track 4, Lock Groove, which is aptly titled as anything here. This is also the reason the album is appropriately named – 30 seconds of oscillations do not make a song, thus “7” is indeed correct. But I digress.
Picking up the scattered shards and welding them into a lumbering prehistorical Transformer, New Testament proceeds to stride right into the path of album highlight IY. Kicking off with energetic, get-up-and-dance (or kick ass) percussion and a swaggering muted horn, it’s equally ready-made for epileptic dance fits and barnstorming runs over decaying industrial districts. Building through a propulsive rhythm motorcade to a fevered crescendo, the track sweats out all the clap-happy energy – leaving the album in a whirlpool of dread and ennui. Amping up the atmosphere beyond smoke-machine-and-lights-out darkness, Porno Base nearly defines the word cavernous and sets the stage for quirky closer Quiet Pillage. All cricket-squeak guiro and steel drum swarm, the track gradually shifts toward a subdued ambient pulse and wood flute accents before dissipating entirely, like waking from a disturbing, curiously addictive dream.
Like I said, this exists on its own terms, and anyone half interested should get to know them.
This band is the funkiest bunch of white guys to emerge from the fertile early-1980’s NYC no wave scene. Featuring one of the most well-known bass lines in recent history, Liquid Liquid are nonetheless relatively unknown to the wider public.
Liquid Liquid is a self-titled collection of everything essential.
To wit: if this band were James Brown, Cavern would be their Funky Drummer. The moment that transcendent rhythm comes to life on the track, you’ll be awash in familiarity and confusion in the same instant. Is this White Lines (Don’t Do It) by Grandmaster Flash? Phenomenon by LL Cool J? Both.
Despite that track’s endearing, enduring charm, it’s not even the best thing here. This collection is overstuffed with quality material, ranging from party-ready bangers to truly outré beat and noise explorations. None of it comes within spitting distance of mainstream pop or modern club music, by any stretch of imagination. One listen though and you’ll be convinced that the ideas contained are the base root for a wide breadth of modern music, popular and obscure alike.
This LP is actually a set released in 1997 by Grand Royal containing basically everything you could want to hear from the band’s limited output. First track Optimo will blow you away. Cavern is next. You’re now on a dark, funky rollercoaster to the end.
[grab this amazingly fresh and complete set at amazon]
bonus: Cavern video!