Boomkat Product Review:
The quietly devastating ’Picture of Bunny Rabbit’ forms a long fabled studio sequel of sorts to Arthur Russell’s divine debut and sole album, ‘World of Echo’, offering up nine previously unreleased recordings from the same, enchanted 1985/86 sessions.
Quite simply ‘World of Echo’ is among the most important, groundbreaking avant-pop records of the late c.20th, so the release of ‘Picture of Bunny Rabbit’ after 38 years in the archive is nothing short of momentous. Sourced from a fiercely guarded archive and one of two test-pressings - dated 9/15/85 by Arthur, as supplied by his mother and sister - this posthumous release nestles a radical iteration of Russell's classic ‘In The Light of the Miracle’ and a gobsmacking title song amid its treasures, which are bound to send the late, great auteur’s acolytes reeling upon contact. Honestly it’s once in a lifetime gear; be wowed now or later - up to you - but wowed you will be.
A pivotal node of NYC’s legendary ’70s downtown experimental scene, who uniquely joined the dots between country-folk, contemporary classical, disco, and the avant-garde, Arthur Russell was tragically diagnosed with HIV in 1985, the same year he released ‘World of Echo’. Beyond an inner circle and those in the know, its dreamlike, disembodied chamber-pop was sorely under appreciated at the time, yet has only grown in stature with the benefit of hindsight, becoming name-checked by almost any modern singer-songwriter worth your time. ‘Picture of Bunny Rabbit’, so named for a standout dedication to a pet of Arthur’s pal, now returns us to the waking dream of ‘World of Echo’ decades advanced and maybe a little wiser, more cynical, yet it still hits harder than we could ever have expected.
The nine parts are lovingly sequenced into an album that ideally showcases the humbling halcyon of Russell's genius. Vacillating achingly beautiful, nuanced ‘Fuzzblaster’ instrumentals for amplified cello and keys with songs, proper, such as the whispered folk-blues of ‘Not Checking Up’ and the nerve-knitting strokes of ‘Telling No One’, it all wraps us up in the most human, cathartic embrace. His phasing, skeletal gem ‘Very Reason’ and synaestehtic sensuality of ‘The Boy With a Smile’ are clearly cut of the same cloth as ‘WoE’, and have a similarly beatific effect, but if we’re playing faves the final couplet are just utterly beyond.
With the title song ‘Picture of Bunny Rabbit’ we’re privy to a stunning, tragically unexplored trajectory for his songcraft into glitching dissonance that betrays his roots in the avant-garde and, likewise, offering us hints as to where it could have gone, while the wobbling, plucky raptures of his new version to ‘In The Light of the Miracle’ characterises the open-ended spirit and mutability of his compositions, sounding distinctive as ever thanks to his eternally fragile yet striking falsetto. Alongside 2022’s ’Sketches for World of Echo: June 25 1984 Live at Ei’, this stunning new suite helps build a true picture of Russell’s gift, we're lucky to be able to bear witness.