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Dancing with himself

By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  April 22, 2009

After the swell of Arthur Russell reissues has seemingly subsided — most of his remaining material is said to be too raw or damaged to be released, though a new disc of his dance songs, The Sleeping Bag Sessions, just came out on Traffic Entertainment — and the music and Wolf's film have helped to cement his cult-icon status, we can begin to hear his influence trickle down into the modern indie mainstream. Aside from his new disco antecedents, David Longstreth positively channels him in the centerpiece to the forthcoming Dirty Projectors album, Bitte Orca (Domino), and a former member of that group, double bassist Nat Baldwin (who will perform after Thursday's SPACE screening), is a disciple. The orchestral, experimental chamber pop of Grizzly Bear owes some of its melancholy and innovative flourishes to Russell's precedents, and the quirky Swedish pop star Jens Lekman, who appears in Wild Combination, is an avowed fan.

While Russell's music is proving adaptable to contemporary trends, it still possesses a singularity that will prove difficult to replicate, let alone define. Russell came to artistic fruition among an array of New York "scenes" — disco, post-punk, new music — and, still the shy Iowa farm boy, revolutionized many of them by taking notes from the sidelines and recording in each genre's fringes. What he produced was mysterious and strange, but it embodies many of the contradictions of his life: Russell's body of work is eccentric and appealing, intimate and communal, dynamic and emotional, but somehow fundamentally, instinctively peaceful. His music shrugs at questions and answers, causes and effects, and coasts on another plane.

Christopher Gray can be reached at

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  Topics: Features , Wild Combination, Modern Lovers, Talking Heads,  More more >
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