Earplug to the Underground: Arthur Russell and Round Black Ghosts

Fringe music is an elusive beast, indeed. Whereas the points of slick tales of love and loss are usually pretty obvious, the undercurrents of the avant-garde are infinitely harder to navigate. Enter your intrepid guide: Earplug. In this bi-monthly series, Flavorwire’s sister publication — home to several experimental, indie, and techno experts — will separate the hidden gems from the record bin rejects, helping the adventurous among us pluck new albums from the outer edges.

After the jump, reviews of a new new release from mutant disco don Arthur Russell and ~scape dub compendium Round Black Ghosts 2.

Arthur Russell – Sleeping Bag Sessions
While a recent, steady stream of reissues has captured lost genius Arthur Russell’s work as a musician, The Sleeping Bag Sessions reminds us of the late cellist’s versatility behind the boards. A compilation of 12in tunes Russell produced at his Sleeping Bag studios and released under obscure names, the record kicks off with a remix of “5 Minutes” by Bootsy Collins-collab Bonzo Goes to Washington. The song gets the remix treatment twice, chopping and slicing mashed-up sound bites of Ronald Reagan into the beat itself. The Bonzo remixes, alongside dual remixes of Clandestine’s disco classic “Radio Rhythm,” show off Russell’s interest in dub edits, testing the limits of both “dance” and “pop.” Clocking in at 12:26, the Walter Gibbons remix of Dinosaur L’s monster dancehall single “Go Bang!” operates as the album’s centerpiece. A masterful representation of Sleeping Bag’s golden years, the cut pushes an already expansive groove in new experimental directions, while maintaining a steep back-end groove. Like the other reissues, this compilation ably furthers the mythic status of Russell as a musical chameleon and inventor. It’s also the fitting sendoff for Sleeping Bag, a slice of mid-80’s New York as responsible as anyone for the recent disco resurgence.
– Scott Tomford
Various, Round Black Ghosts 2
Like last year’s Round Black Ghosts, Round Black Ghosts 2 surveys dubstep’s fertile fringes, an amorphous zone of nimble percussion, otherworldly sound design, and overwhelming waves of bass. More sumptuously produced than grime, and with a suppleness that’s missing from dubstep’s jump-up mainstream, these cuts tug against the genre’s calcifying beat structures in odd syncopations. As with Burial, percussion sounds often feel sanded down and burnished to a dull gleam, stripped of the harshness that accompanies dubstep’s more macho, martial strains. Many of these cuts have appeared elsewhere: Untold’s “Yukon” comes off a recent 12-inch from his own Hemlock label; TRG’s “Losing Marbles” appeared on Scuba’s Hotflush imprint. But what the compilation lacks in exclusive cuts it more than makes up for in unity of purpose. Like pictures at an exhibition, the tracks seem to “talk” to each other, trying out ideas and trading motifs. Jittery rimshots and hi-hats are a signature of virtually every cut here, but in Ramadanman’s “Blimey” they whip like a weed trimmer’s rubber fringe, while in Flying Lotus’s mix of Martyn’s “Vancouver,” it’s all about steel blade and butcher block. Pole’s Alles Gute, like his contribution to RBG1, shows an intriguingly skewed take on the genre, its reluctant lurch cutting crosswise against dubstep’s headlong impulse; full of empty space, it breathes like no other. And special mention is due to Scuba’s “Bleach,” an imaginary meeting between Basic Channel’s subaquatic dub techno and William Basinski’s corroded magnetic tapes. Stunning.
– Philip Sherburne