Sunday, August 1, 2010


Laurie Anderson. Homeland. Nonesuch. "[The] TriBeCa loft -- her base of operations since 1975 -- was a hive of activity, including a conference about a coming museum installation in Brazil and various promotional tasks surrounding the release of Homeland, her first album of new material in nearly 10 years. Thirty-some years into a career that began on the fringes of the downtown avant-garde scene, Ms. Anderson, 63, is more prolific than ever and, together with [Lou] Reed, has ascended to New York art-world royalty. The two were even queen and king of this year’s Mermaid Parade at Coney Island. At the moment Ms. Anderson . . . was still thinking about [her recent trip to] Poland. Before her show there she visited Majdanek, a former Nazi concentration camp, with [John] Zorn. 'It was a devastating trip,' she said in her home studio, which overlooks the ruins of a Hudson River pier. 'Zorn and I spent two hours crying after walking through this thing, and just couldn’t stop crying.' It’s an understandable response, yet slightly surprising to hear coming from Ms. Anderson, whose work often considers the horrors and follies of humanity from a cool, more detached perspective. Her signature song, the left-field 1981 new-wave hit “O Superman,” conflated maternal succor with the psychology of the modern corporate state using electronically processed verse. 'So hold me, Mom, in your long arms,” Ms. Anderson sang, “Your petrochemical arms/Your military arms.' Homeland similarly twists together ideas of the personal and political, beginning with the title, a word that has acquired ominous overtones in the shadow of Sept. 11. 'It’s a very cold, bureaucratic word,' Ms. Anderson said. 'No one I know would say ‘my homeland.’' She notes its recent pairing with the word 'security,' which she contends 'is not about security, really, but more about control. The phrase doesn’t make anyone feel particularly safe, does it?' Sociology of language notwithstanding, Homeland may be the most frankly emotional record Ms. Anderson has ever made. The work is dedicated to her parents, and the mood veers between degrees of darkness. The lead track, Transitory Life, begins with a yarn spinner’s sly indictment -- 'It’s a good time for bankers, and winners, and sailors' — then segues into a more intimate voice, describing the funeral of a grandmother who “'ies there in her shiny black coffin looks just like a piano.' The music is shaped by a stark, mournful viola line played by Eyvind Kang, and a pair of igils -- horse-head fiddles -- played by members of Chirgilchin, a Tuvan traditional group Ms. Anderson has performed with. The Lake and The Beginning of Memory are slowly unfolding songs that each refer to the death of a father. But the sense of loss on Homeland goes beyond family. Dark Time in the Revolution tries to square modern-day America with the nation Tom Paine was defining when he wrote Common Sense. 'You thought there were things that had disappeared forever/Things from the Middle Ages/Beheadings and hangings and people in cages,' Ms. Anderson intones over Joey Baron’s inexorable tom-tom rolls. 'And suddenly they’re all right welcome to the American night.' For the record’s 11-minute centerpiece, Another Day in America, Ms. Anderson uses a vocal processor to assume a male persona, a trick she first used in 1978 as M.C. of a tribute to the writer William S. Burroughs. She referred to the character as 'the Voice of Authority' back then. Now he’s aged and acquired a name -- Fenway Bergamot -- coined by Mr. Reed. 'He got melancholic and got a personality somehow,' Ms. Anderson said. His semi-robotic voice is strangely emotive. As modern pop singers regularly alter their voice with AutoTune and other effects, Another Day in America suggests creative roads not taken. In the song Bergamot (who has his own Facebook page) ponders the future in a discursive monologue adding a direct address to God. 'Ah, America,' he says through Ms. Anderson and her electronics. 'We saw it, we tipped it over, and then we sold it.' In a nice conceptual touch the gender-bending vocalist Antony (Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons) adds ghostly vocals in the background. If sadness and loss is the primary tone of Homeland; there’s also anger. Only an Expert features beats by the British electronic musician Kieran Hebdan (who also records as Four Tet) and eviscerating electric guitar by Mr. Reed. Speaking rapidly and with unusual specificity Ms. Anderson riffs on climate change, the banking crisis, the war in Iraq and civil rights post-9/11" [Will Hermes, The New York Times, 6/22/10].