10. Laurie Anderson - Homeland
Back during the end of 2009, I was eagerly anticipating 2010 due to the multitude of artists I liked who were releasing or expecting to release a new album in the coming year. Now, during the end of 2010, I have to say that it was nice to hear all of the new material from old friends like Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens, but what truly made this year enjoyable was the multitude of new artists to whom I was introduced.
I do not remember what drove me to listen to this album, but I am tempted to say it was the cover. Regardless, my first foray into Laurie Anderson's material was one of unexpected surprise and delight. This album sounds exactly unlike anything else on this list, or anything I have heard prior, yet it still manages to entertain and be beautiful and poignant. The songs are largely spoken-word, and even when Anderson sings there is a clear emphasis on the poetry of the lyrics. In spoken-word material, the voice is everything, and Anderson's voice is oddly spellbinding, in a manner such that I would not mind listening to her narrate for hours. It is soothing and scathing, always captivating.
What shine as well are the musical arrangements. They are fairly sparse, and expectedly so for such an album, but they are refreshingly unfamiliar. The opening track, "Transitory Life," sounds like a futuristic Chinese opera, with sustained violin, wordless chanting, and weird bass sounds played at odd intervals. I detect definite foreign influences throughout the album, which is especially interesting considering the album conceptually is about the USA. But Anderson even deviates from this pattern occasionally. The track "Only an Expert" is spoken word over a techno-dance beat for seven-and-a-half minutes, and both the beat's infectiousness and the lyrics' sarcasm make you wish it was longer.
The centerpiece is "Another Day in America," narrated by Anderson, but with her voice electronically lowered a few octaves, which makes it sound even more sinister and unsettling, yet still soothing. The background music is Eno-esque ambient, which is harmless enough, and it makes sure that the words are the center of attention. The track is over 11 minutes long, and it really has to be heard to be appreciated. It is an engaging and poignant meditation on present-day America.
My favorite track is probably "The Beginning of Memory." Anderson tells a creation myth over a vaguely tribal-sounding accompaniment. It is one of the shorter tracks here, but it creates a wealth of beauty with its limited time. If you want a concise introduction to how good this entire album is, just give it a listen. I am emphasizing this, because one would expect such an album about America to be harsh and bitter, but it is far from that. There are elements of these feelings, of course, but Anderson runs the gamut of emotions in her writing and makes a better album for it.
I love this album, not only because it is an excellent work on its own, but also because it has introduced me to Laurie Anderson, who has been around since the eighties. So far, I only have managed to hear her debut album Big Science, but it too is extremely impressive, and I look forward to going through the rest of her discography. I will not deny that her music demands the patience and commitment to actually pay attention to what she says, since it can wash over unimpressively otherwise, and I need to be in a very particular kind of mood to want to play this album because of that. It just keeps getting better with each listen, though, and I cannot recommend Homeland enough to anybody who appreciates spoken-word, poetry, and music.