Under Review: Laurie Anderson – Homeland

Despite her reclusive nature, Laurie Anderson can always be counted on for presenting something fascinating when she emerges from her creative hibernations.  Though her best-known work is nearly 30 years old, Anderson has been releasing albums and assembling stage shows on a sporadic basis ever since.  Her last studio record, Life On A String, came out in 2001, and Homeland is its long-awaited follow-up.  Like most of Anderson’s compositions, Homeland was constructed as a stage show exploring the minutiae of life in America.  Spoken word mixes with sung refrains, and mesmerizing instrumentation creates haunting and alluring atmospheres.  Also like most of Anderson’s other work, Homeland is a masterpiece.  In contrast to its American spirit, Homeland features a strong world music influence.  Opener “Transitory Life” features synthesized blurts alongside Anderson’s droning violin and Tuvan throat singer Aidysmaa Koshkendey.  More familiar elements, like the airy vocoder employed on her classic “O Superman,” are featured on “Falling” and “My Right Eye,” which builds from a sparse meditation to a series of densely layered counterpoints.  A cornerstone of Anderson’s art has always been storytelling, and Homeland features two of her best pieces in that area: “The Beginning Of Memory,” which tells the tale of how birds who flew before the creation of land buried the dead in their minds, and “Another Day In America,” where Anderson’s warped and processed voice (in fact her male alter ego, “Fenway Bergamot”) contemplates trivial social behaviors.  “Another Day Is America” is also one of two tracks to feature vocals from Antony Hegarty, who, along with John Zorn, Lou Reed and Kieran “Four Tet” Hebden, makes this one of Anderson’s most star-studded efforts.

Though Anderson’s albums and shows are intricately arranged to be taken as wholes, Homeland’s undoubted standout is “Only An Expert.”  With its titular mantra and throbbing beat, the piece is a biting and humorous takedown of our culture’s reliance on experts and advice suppliers.  It’s one of Anderson’s finest balances of pop accessibility and vanguard experimentalism.  Within that same song, Anderson tackles recently pressing topics like bailouts, torture and complete financial destitution (as well as a sly jab at “An Inconvenient Truth”).  Anderson doesn’t really cast judgment on the peculiarities she observes, but the album does have an overarching darkness about it.  In her effort to make Homeland topical, Anderson might have slipped into irrevocably dating the album.  Luckily, she digs into the more pertinent phenomena to come up with the underlying universality that courses through every generation’s defining events and discoveries.  As the audio portion to one of Anderson’s multimedia shows, Homeland alone might not give the full depth of Anderson’s intentions.  As a piece of stand-alone sonic art, though, Homeland is one of the most captivating releases to come out in years.

Click HERE to stream Homeland (via NPR Music)

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~ by E. on June 16, 2010.

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