Published Feb 16, 2018As this debut album's title plainly spells out, Everything is Recorded is the new project from XL Recordings' founder Richard Russell. Its concept — pair the influential label-head with a slew of talented collaborators, many of whom are on his payroll, and see what happens — reads like the definition of artistic indulgence and hubris. Yet the record is a tasteful amalgam of its participants' prodigious talents.
EIR bears a striking resemblance to This Mortal Coil, the gothic dream-pop project of 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell (no relation). Yet, where Watts-Russell was something more akin to a curator or executive producer, XL's Russell takes a far more hands-on approach. And he's no dilettante: Russell scored a surprise UK hit back in 1992 as Kicks Like a Mule and famously produced Gil-Scott Heron's final album, I'm New Here. Fitting XL's eclectic roster, Everything Is Recorded by Richard Russell touches on dub, soul, UK garage and bass music, among many other sounds.
Born out of jam sessions held in the wake of Russell's hospitalization and recovery from full-body paralysis, loneliness is at the record's core. "There are moments in our lives that we feel completely alone," booms the slowed-down sample from preacher TD Jakes that opens the record, a motif that Russell disperses throughout the album's brisk 40-minute runtime.
Still, his collaborators, including Kamasi Washington, Ibeyi, Syd, Damon Albarn and Owen Pallett, can't quite match the solitary feelings imbued in much of Russell's production. Many deliver star-making turns — Infinite, son of Ghostface Killah, turns in stellar performances on "Bloodshot Red Eyes" and "Be My Friend" — but even with egos firmly in check, songs like "She Said" featuring Obongjayar feel more concerned with the corporeal than the kind of spiritual searching in which Russell appears interested. There's a disconnect between some of the individual songs — which are strong across the board — and the record's higher purpose.
Sampha, though, emerges as the record's MVP. Singing on four of the album's nine songs proper, each among the best of the lot, he and Russell connect on every level. Sampha's voice seamlessly blends into the Curtis Mayfield sample that forms the backbone of "Close But Not Quite." His warm vocals that anchor the album, bringing hope and uplift to dire straits.
Working with any sort of group is a difficult undertaking under the best of circumstances; trying to herd a clutch of singularly minded artists such as this around a specific idea seems impossible. Yet, Everything Is Recorded by Richard Russell is a moving, beautiful album that offers community as a cure for loneliness. Even if at times he's somewhat overshadowed by his collaborators, Russell manages to have his voice shine through. (XL)