That isn't to say Russell didn't make difficult music. It's possible that no one knew that better than Will Socolov, Russell's partner at seminal imprint Sleeping Bag. According to Lawrence, Socolov was becoming impatient with Russell by the mid-'80s. Though the former understood the latter's genius, his projects would take ages to finish—if Russell, famously a tinkerer, would ever finish them at all. Rather than refine the scrappy dance sound that had become Sleeping Bag's signature, he was wading further out into an esoteric, wildly uncommercial style. Not long before Socolov and Russell parted ways in 1985, Russell gave the label three different test pressings of an album made under his Indian Ocean pseudonym called Corn, but Socolov deemed the material too strange for release. More than 30 years later, a version of Corn has been cobbled together from those test pressings, and is finally getting its day on the racks.
Even Russell die-hards might be able to stand in Socolov's shoes for a moment. Though Corn finds Russell in typically brilliant form, it's also his most extreme artifact, bearing some of the scruffiest disco, noisiest soundscapes and loopiest song structures of his career. Not all of the material will be unfamiliar—alternate versions of Russell classics fill up much of the record, which helps things along. "This Is How We Walk On The Moon," a dubby cello whisper from Another Thought, appears here like a drugged version of itself, with slippery drums, squishy low end and oodles of distortion. "See My Brother, He's Jumping Out (Let's Go Swimming #2)" doesn't veer far from Walter Gibbons' famous mix of "Let's Go Swimming," but it's looser and punchier, and Russell's cello occasionally bursts through like blood flowing from a gash. "Lucky Cloud" is actually more straightforward here than we've heard before—infused with a kind of rock swagger, the song takes on an uncharacteristic menace. In between these known tracks, we hear Russell exploring hazy, freeform terrain beset by droning keyboards, rattling drum kits and vocal lines echoed and smeared to the edges of intelligibility. When Russell sings the titular line from "Hiding Your Present From You," you'll know exactly what he's talking about.
Russell's cello has never growled so fiercely, and his voice has rarely boomed so ominously, but his horn arrangements and keyboards maintain a certain balance and warmth. They come to the rescue many times, particularly on "Corn (Continued)," a sprawling jam continually pulled to a distorted brink. On "Ocean Movie," the album's cathartic final track, Russell finally crosses over, letting cellos jangle, keyboards swirl and all manner of studio-crafted disorder gush into the mix. But when you average out the extremes, you still get Arthur Russell. Corn is a trying record—don't dive in here if you haven't yet explored this artist's output. For the thoroughly initiated, though, Corn shows just how far down Russell's deep end you can go.