LAURIE ANDERSON — Homeland (June 22, 2010)


♦   Homeland is a 2010 album by Laurie Anderson. It is her first album of new material since 2001's Life on a String.

Location: New York
Album release: June 22, 2010
Recorded: 2007 — 2010, at Masterdisk, NYC
Record Label: Nonesuch/Elektra
01–01 Transitory Life     6:52 
01–02 My Right Eye     5:01 
01–03 Thinking of You     4:12 
01–04 Strange Perfumes     4:46 
01–05 Only an Expert     7:26 
01–06 Falling     3:19 
01–07 Another Day in America     11:24 
01–08 Bodies in Motion     7:10 
01–09 Dark Time in the Revolution     5:14 
01–10 The Lake     5:39 
01–11 The Beginning of Memory     2:45 
01–12 Flow     2:15
02–01 DVD: Homeland: The Story of the Lark     41:00 
02–02 DVD: Laurie's Violin     7:00
♦   Directed by Braden King
♦   Produced by Katie Stern Truckstop Media
♦   Laurie Anderson, vocals (1–11), keyboards (1–11), percussion (2–5, 7–9, 11), violin (3, 7, 12), radio (9)
♦   Eyvind Kang, viola (1–7, 9, 10)
♦   Peter Scherer, keyboards (1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 11)
♦   Igor Koshkendey, Mongoun–Ool Ondar, igil (1)
♦   Aidysmaa Koshkendey, vocals (1, 11)
♦   Rob Burger, keyboards (2–5, 8, 9), orchestron (2–3, 8), accordion (3, 4, 9, 10), marxophone (4)
♦   Lou Reed, additional percussion (2), guitar (5)
♦   Antony, vocals (4), background vocals (7)
♦   Shahzad Ismaily, percussion (4)
♦   Omar Hakim, drums (5)
♦   Kieran Hebden, keyboards (5)
♦   Ben Witman, percussion and drums (7)
♦   Skuli Sverrisson, bass guitar (7), guitar (8), bass (9)
♦   John Zorn, saxophone (8, 11)
♦   Lolabelle, piano (8)
♦   Joey Baron, drums (9)
♦   Mario McNulty, percussion (11)
♦   Produced by Laurie Anderson with Lou Reed and Roma Baran
♦   Engineered by Laurie Anderson, Pat Dillett, Mario McNulty, and Marc Urselli
♦   Mixed by Mario McNulty
♦   Mastered by Scott Hull at Masterdisk, New York, NY
♦   DVD: "Homeland: The Story of the Lark" and “Laurie’s Violin”
♦   Directed by Braden King
♦   Produced by Katie Stern Truckstop Media
♦   Design by John Gall
♦   Cover Photograph by Andrew Zuckerman
♦   Photography by Laurie Anderson, Dave Bowkett, Aaron Copp, Jody Elff, Peter Scherer, Skúli Sverrisson
♦   Executive Producer: David Bither
♦   Calling Laurie Anderson “the most important multimedia artist of our time,” the Los Angeles Times recently noted the “rare, profound maturity” of her latest songs. Thirty years into her recording career — in which she has simultaneously remained busy as a visual artist, composer, poet, photographer, filmmaker and internationally touring live performer — she has applied her craft to a new studio album, her first in ten years. The collection of songs is at once personal and political, equally focused on love and American identity. Nonesuch Records released the album, entitled Homeland, on June 22, 2010.
♦   Homeland is produced by Anderson with Lou Reed and Roma Baran, and engineered by Anderson, Pat Dillett, Mario McNulty, and Marc Urselli. The music is instantly recognizable as Anderson’s, though it draws on a broad scope of styles: She sings throughout and plays newly developed sounds on violin, as well as contributing keyboards and percussion. Her vocals are often mediated by the vocal filter she long ago invented to perform her signature “audio drag,” this time voicing Fenway Bergamot, the male alter–ego who appears on the album’s cover and narrates the song “Another Day in America.”
♦   On Homeland, Anderson is joined by a diversity of collaborators, from the Tuvan throat singers and igil players of Chirgilchin to New York experimental jazz and rock players including Rob Burger (keyboards), Omar Hakim (drums), Kieran Hebden of Four Tet (keyboards), Shahzad Ismaily (percussion) Eyvind Kang (viola), Peter Scherer (keyboards), Skuli Sverrisson (bass), Ben Witman (percussion and drums) and John Zorn (saxophone). Antony Hegarty contributes additional vocals.
♦   Homeland is Anderson’s first studio album since Life on a String (2001), which prompted the New York Times to say, “Any pop performer — Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith — would be proud to tell a story so vividly.” Underscoring the unique art–music nexus Anderson occupies, that review also quoted the art critic RoseLee Goldberg’s suggestion that “Anderson has by now entered the pantheon of late–20th–century American artists, joining such figures as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol.”
♦   The essential Americanness of Anderson’s work is epitomized by Homeland. The new songs touch upon US foreign policy, torture, economic collapse, the erosion of personal freedom, medical malpractice, religion and cynicism. In this sense they echo Anderson’s early landmarks, especially her politically charged multimedia piece United States I–IV. In form as well as subject matter, there are also resonances of Anderson’s seminal album Big Science, which Nonesuch reissued in 2007.
♦   The songs comprising Homeland were developed over two years on the road, while Anderson was touring an intimate, constantly evolving live show of the same name. In a four–star review of the concert at the Barbican Centre, The Times of London called it “a passionate and erudite work whose references range from Thomas Paine and Kierkegaard to Aristophanes and Oprah Winfrey.” The Guardian called Homeland “her finest show in more than a decade,” adding, “It also represents some of the most purely beautiful music she has ever made.”
♦   The album includes a DVD featuring the 41–minute film "Homeland: The Story of the Lark" and the shorter piece “Laurie’s Violin,” both directed by filmmaker Braden King. The DVD is formatted for Region 0 (region–free).
By Brian Howe; June 21, 2010; Score: 8.3
♦   Laurie Anderson's 40–year career bucks classification, incorporating performance art, music, spoken word, video, and more. To mention John Zorn, Lou Reed, and Philip Glass only glosses her collaborations with the American avant–garde. She's also crossed over in interesting and unexpected ways, whether voicing a singing tot in The Rugrats Movie, or hitting #2 on the 1981 UK Singles Chart with "O Superman (For Massenet)", a doomsday anthem combining the vocoder with an aria from Le Cid. That angelic, robotic voice is often reprised on Homeland, her first new album in a decade, which fans will welcome as an heir to her definitive performance piece, United States. ♦   It's also a perfect starting point; an exquisite state–of–the–union dispatch as only Anderson, America's darkly comic conscience, can provide.
♦   A songful yet distressed Neo–Romantic mode anchors forays into techno, jazz, drone, and minimal electronics. Top–notch guests like Zorn, Antony, and Kieran Hebden add their unique perspectives to Anderson's probing keyboards and violins. ♦   The music is spacious, mercurial, and thoroughly conceived. Anderson's vocals hover between speech and song, polemics and poetry, apocalyptic and redemptive fervors. And that's as far as generalizations will go. Homeland teems with the same variety and sprit as the U.S. itself.
♦   These songs have been developing live for years, so naturally, Iraq and Wall Street loom large. The persistence of those quandaries makes the material feel timely, even oracular, a quality for which Anderson is known. "O Superman" gained fresh attention after 9–11 for its images of American planes drawing ominously nearer. (On a lighter note, its vocals predicted everything from Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek" to the ongoing Auto–Tune craze.) She's still broadcasting from the day after tomorrow. ♦   The organic house track "Only an Expert" schematically details the hubris of authorities who consolidate power by creating problems only they can solve. Had the album been delayed a little longer, a verse about the BP oil leak would have fit perfectly alongside the global warming controversy and the banking bailout.
♦   "Only an Expert" makes a pervasive, subtle theme momentarily explicit: How shared illusions about security and plenitude perpetuate a predictable cycle of cultural, environmental, and existential crises. But this threatens to make the album sound punitive, when somehow, Anderson's wrath feels compassionate. As "Falling" would have it, "Americans, unrooted, blow with the wind/ But they feel the truth if it touches them." It's confrontational and beautiful, the grim tidings leavened with empathetic portraiture. "Transitory Life" is haunting and cunningly crafted. When Anderson sings that her dead grandmother "made herself a bed inside my ear/ Every night I hear," the Tuvan throat singer from the song's intro reappears, the formless cries suddenly given a narrative role.

♦   But the epic "Another Day in America" is the album's huge, dark heart. Anderson's voice is pitched down and slowed — she becomes her character on the cover, a slapstick figure of male authority — over lingering strings and keyboards. The oration is a vortex of visionary proclamations, pointed fables, downbeat jokes. It makes palpable not only all the pathos and superstition of the American psyche, but the weight of time passing away — another diminishing resource. Every malfunction of the status quo, Anderson implies, is a chance to start over, instead of rushing to rebuild what always breaks down. Her pessimism might not be comforting, but as oil continues to poison the Gulf of Mexico, it feels awfully prescient. ::