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Pop - Released June 21, 2010 | Nonesuch

Booklet Distinctions Stereophile: Record To Die For
We haven't heard from Laurie Anderson in eight years -- since her Live at Town Hall NYC recording, cut two weeks after September 11, 2001 -- but that doesn't mean she hasn't been busy. Homeland began as a series of ideas recorded on the road in which she simply sang songs and told various stories about America. Some of them ended up as a concert poem about America that was a logical extension of her United States I-IV project -- and a non-didactic indictment of the Bush administration. The live recordings were combined with basic studio tracks, ending in 25 songs. She eventually ended up with the daunting task of sorting through, editing, and engineering a million audio files. Husband Lou Reed lent fresh ears when they were most needed; he is listed as a co-producer, as is longtime associate Roma Baran. Homeland features appearances from a stellar cast including Tuvan throat singers and igil players of Chirgilchin along with a number of experimental jazz and rock players, including Rob Burger, Omar Hakim, Reed, John Zorn, Kieran Hebden, Shahzad Ismaily, Eyvind Kang, Joey Baron, Peter Scherer, Skuli Sverrisson, Ben Wittman, and Antony Hegarty. Its songs -- whether spoken or sung -- are profoundly musical rather than simply conceptual. They ask questions about what it means to be an American in the 21st century, philosophically and personally, by way of references as diverse as Thomas Paine, Søren Kierkegaard, Aristophanes, and Oprah Winfrey -- and Anderson's wonderful sense of irony. While there isn't a single cut in this dozen that doesn't bear repeated listening, certain ones stand out. The trilogy that begins with "My Right Eye" and continues through "Thinking of You" and "Strange Perfumes" consists of nocturnal, low-key songs haunted by the beauty of Anderson's violin and voice with help from various singers, Kang's viola, Scherer's keyboards, and Burger's various instruments, including accordion. Hegarty assists on the last of these, lending it an ethereal quality. All are lyrical and haunting. "Only an Expert," driven by Hebden's keyboards and Reed's distorted guitar, is a scathing indictment of the rise of focus groups and the nebulous talking heads on television who analyze everything about modern life. The album's true hinge piece, "Another Day in America," employs Anderson's longtime male alter ego Fenway Bergamot. Zorn's bleating alto saxophone adds weight, dimension, and shock value to the lovely "Bodies in Motion." He also appears on "The Beginning of Memory," a song that relates the narrative allegory of a play from Aristophanes. Homeland is literally the most accessible Anderson recording since 1982's Big Science and easily stands among her masterworks. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Rock - Released August 20, 2001 | Nonesuch

2001's Life on a String is a peculiar entry in Laurie Anderson's career, in that elements of it echo her previous work without sounding much like anything she's done before. In particular, the album has ties both to 1982's Big Science (like that album, Life on a String largely consists of songs taken from a much larger work, her musical theater piece Moby Dick) and 1989's Strange Angels (it returns to the more musical side of her style, which had been largely abandoned on her two '90s releases). Unfortunately, it doesn't measure up to either of those career high points. In its favor, the sound is a new and intriguing development for Anderson; an accomplished violin player who previously had only used the instrument pretty much as a prop, Anderson fills all of these songs with front-and-center string sections that provide an entirely different texture for her usual meandering melodies. On the minus side, the lyrics largely feel about half-written, full of jarring transitions and lines that seem to be there to take up space until Anderson writes the real words. The primary exception is "Slip Away," a moving song about the death of her father that's probably the most direct and emotional song Anderson has ever written. It's the clear high point of Life on a String; unfortunately none of the rest of the album compares. © Stewart Mason /TiVo
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Progressive Rock - Released July 29, 2008 | Rhino - Warner Records

Five years after the release of 1989's pop-oriented Strange Angels, Laurie Anderson returned with Bright Red, a Brian Eno-produced excursion into much darker territory. Strange Angels and its predecessor, 1984's Mister Heartbreak, introduced a new level of melodic and rhythmic sophistication into the spare electronics of Anderson's early work, but Bright Red largely dispenses with that; instead, Eno provides a sound closer to his trademark ambient music (though it's still more melodically and rhythmically varied than, say, Ambient 1: Music for Airports) and Anderson largely abandons singing for her earlier, more conversational spoken-word style. Thematically, the album is filled with images of disconnection, miscommunication, and fear, with the sly wit and deadpan humor of her early days almost entirely absent. The result is an album that's more to be admired than enjoyed, since (apparently by design) it's nearly impossible to make any sort of emotional connection with this music. Gossip hounds will enjoy combing "In Our Sleep," a duet with then-boyfriend Lou Reed, for hints about their relationship. © Stewart Mason /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 27, 2019 | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

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Pop - Released October 20, 1989 | Warner Records

Laurie Anderson's third proper studio album, coming over five years after 1984's Mister Heartbreak (1986's Home of the Brave was a film soundtrack), is a near-total departure from anything she had done before or, indeed, anything she did after. The most purely musical of Anderson's albums and the one on which she does the most actual singing (though her trademark deadpan spoken-word passages are still present and accounted for), Strange Angels seems to be Anderson's idea of a straightforward pop album. Of course, given Anderson's pedigree, this is not Whitney Houston territory; the closest parallel would be Joni Mitchell's more experimental, post-Mingus work: pretty but chilly, with a certain emotional distance even on the most immediately appealing songs (in this case, the thrilling "Babydoll" and the dreamy title track). There appears to be no underlying concept to the album, although the lyrical themes of three of the songs are explicitly taken from 19th century American literature. The musical arrangements are remarkably complex and feature cameos from not only Anderson's usual collaborators (Adrian Belew, David Van Tieghem, etc.) but also a motley crew ranging from jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin to session keyboardist Robbie Kilgore. As a result, the songs are sometimes a little too busy, but Anderson manages to remain the center of attention throughout. An album on which longtime Anderson fans tend to be divided, Strange Angels is a perfect introduction for anyone who might find the deadpan surrealism of Big Science or United States I-IV a bit much. © Stewart Mason /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 4, 2005 | Rhino - Warner Records

Talk Normal: The Laurie Anderson Anthology gathers 35 career highlights that range from Anderson's most performance art-oriented material to her poppiest moments. Leading off with "O Superman (For Massenet)," her unlikely 1981 hit, the first disc pares down Big Science -- itself a distillation of her four-hour piece United States -- to its starkest and most hypnotic tracks, including "From the Air," "Born, Never Asked," and the title track. "Sharkey's Day," "Excellent Birds," and "Langue D'Amour," all from the more melodic, emotional Mister Heartbreak, close out disc one, along with more pieces from United States, including "Walk the Dog," "Cartoon Song," and "Lighting Out for the Territories." Similarly, the second disc picks highlights from the Home of the Brave soundtrack -- "Smoke Rings" and "Language Is a Virus" chief among them -- and includes six tracks from her most melodic, song-structured album, Strange Angels. "Coolsville," "The Day the Devil," and the title track work especially well outside of the album's context and mix nicely with Bright Red tracks like "Speak My Language" and "In Our Sleep." The anthology closes with a sampling of The Ugly One With the Jewels' vignettes, including "The Night Flight From Houston," "The Rotowhirl," and "The End of the World." Though the anthology distills Anderson's work so much that it tends to blur the character of her individual albums, Talk Normal still presents most of the nuances in Anderson's distant yet open, ironic yet emotional style. For new listeners who want a bigger, more representative picture of Anderson's work than Big Science provides, Talk Normal is a good starting point. © Heather Phares /TiVo
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Pop - Released July 27, 2007 | Nonesuch

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Laurie Anderson was raised in Glen Ellyn, a suburb of Chicago. But when she was composing the material that would become Big Science, she was a New York-based performance artist who was spending a lot of time playing in Europe. "I always felt that Europeans saw the United States as a version of their own future," she said in the notes that accompanied the album's second CD edition. Nearly four decades after its release, that convergence of distanced and Midwestern perspectives seems remarkably prescient. The album begins with a plane crash and ends with a building burning down, which is hard to beat as a metaphor for contemporary life's endless loop of disaster. In between, Anderson tells stories that confront people who talk like they've stepped out of old TV shows being confronted by a technologically advancing world that feels alien and, if you pay attention to the man behind the curtain, quite disturbing. While the harmonized vocal loop that runs through "O Superman (For Massenet)," the novelty hit that launched her career, sounds charmingly primitive now, the picture it paints of a corporate surveillance environment that seems pretty confident that it knows you better than you know yourself feels like life today. And since life in such a scenario can feel like a waking dream, the tracks that used keyboard ambience and spoken narration to evoke dream states haven't aged a bit even though the technology used to make them has. But Big Science is not relentlessly dystopian; the deadpan humor and understated wonder in Anderson's delivery soften its sting. © Bill Meyer/Qobuz
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Progressive Rock - Released July 29, 2008 | Rhino - Warner Records

Once her popularity seemed assured, Warner Bros. felt safe releasing this five-record set (since reissued on four CDs) comprising United States' entire four-and-a-half hours. It's not the first place I'd recommend going to hear Anderson's work, but for those so inclined it's well worth the effort. Although live performances of United States included film segments that ran during some of her monologues, United States is about communication and how we interpret and use language. It's a bit pretentious, a tad long-winded, and its size makes it unwieldy to listen to in one sitting, but this is an important work loaded with enough insight, wit, and humanity to make relistening and re-evaluating worthwhile. © John Dougan /TiVo
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Progressive Rock - Released July 29, 2008 | Rhino - Warner Records

On her later albums, Laurie Anderson had moved from her earlier spoken word-plus-effects style to a more overtly musical approach, with less effective results. The Ugly One With the Jewels, a recording of a live performance of readings from her book Stories From the Nerve Bible, returned her to speaking instead of singing, and it was her best album since Big Science. The 18 stories reflected Anderson's extensive travels, including forays into the Third World and to convents, although she made Los Angeles and Houston sound just as exotic. In fact, telling her stories over sounds from birds, guitars, and electronic beeps, she seemed an anthropologist from another world, always finding the natives friendly but strange. And she didn't fail to recognize that she could appear just as odd to them: "The Ugly One With the Jewels" was a name used by one of her subjects to describe her. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Rock - Released April 28, 2009 | Nonesuch

By placing the location and dates, "New York City, September 19-20, 2001," on the stark cover of this concert album, Laurie Anderson evokes the context in which the shows from which it was drawn occurred: They took place less than two weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the city that was one of the principal targets. Anderson is not the sort of artist one would think of immediately as an ideal commentator on those cataclysmic events; hers is a cool, ironic persona, and irony was one of the immediate casualties of the attacks. Her introductory comments do not bode well, as she speaks, in her perpetually becalmed voice, of the "great opportunity" the attacks provide to "live in a completely new world," surely not a sentiment her listeners can have shared, as the sparse applause indicates. But as the concert goes on, her music comes across as elegiac in a way it did not before, and her abstract, discontinuous lyrics are full of observations newly transformed by tragedy. As she notes in her annotations, "Here come the planes/They're American planes, made in America," from 1981's "O Superman" has a new connotation here, and when she closes the show with "Love Among the Sailors" from 1994's Bright Red ("There is no pure land now, no safe place/If this is the work of an angry god, I want to look into his angry face"), the new meaning is unmistakable. As these selections suggest, the concert, unlike other performances of Anderson's, is a conventional look back at her career, picking highlights from old albums rather than an all-new program, which is what she usually presents. As such, the album is a live complement to 2000's Talk Normal: The Laurie Anderson Anthology, though its material is not as well chosen. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Pop - Released May 6, 1986 | Warner Records

1986's Home of the Brave is the soundtrack to a film consisting of live pieces debuted during Laurie Anderson's first world tour, promoting 1984's Mister Heartbreak. Only one song from that album, a radically reworked version of the William S. Burroughs cameo "Sharkey's Night," appears here; the rest of the album is something of a return to the performance art basis of Anderson's earlier work like Big Science and United States I-IV. As a result, Home of the Brave has an oddly reheated quality to it, as if Anderson is merely going through the motions of what had gone before while incorporating snatches of the new, more musical direction she had begun exploring with Mister Heartbreak. (Even the title is a self-conscious echo of United States I-IV.) There are some successes here -- "Language Is a Virus" is probably the closest Anderson ever came to a real rock song, and it was a minor dancefloor and college radio hit -- but the opening "Smoke Rings" goes on too long with too little and some of the shorter pieces sound half-formed. The centerpiece track, "Talk Normal," is a hoot and has a catchy tune reminiscent of the Talking Heads' most African-influenced moments, but the ending, in which Anderson recounts an incident where she was walking down the street in her neighborhood and overheard two women dismissing her as "another one of those Laurie Anderson clones" as she passed, shows the problem with Home of the Brave: Anderson had become far too self-conscious. It wasn't surprising that Anderson took a long break after this release to reassess her place in both music and art. © Stewart Mason /TiVo
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World - Released August 20, 2019 | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

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Film Soundtracks - Released October 23, 2015 | Nonesuch

Booklet
It's not at all surprising that Laurie Anderson would make a film dealing with grief and loss, especially as one of her first major projects after the death of her husband Lou Reed. But instead of offering a tribute to her late spouse, Anderson chose to make a film that dealt with another departed loved one: her dog. Her 2015 film, Heart of a Dog, is loosely centered around her experiences with her dog Lolabelle, a rat terrier who was adopted by the artist after being given up by a family going through a divorce. The soundtrack album to the film Heart of a Dog ambitiously combines music, sounds effects, ambient noises, and Anderson's cool but resonant narration as she tells us stories about Lolabelle that lead into observations on a variety of other topics -- life in post-9/11 America, her uneasy relationship with her mother, harrowing memories from her childhood, her studies of Buddhism, and the nature of dreams. While life with Lolabelle is the recurring metaphor on this album, Heart of a Dog doesn't have a proper narrative to connect its various elements, but the album's peaceful but determined drift from theme to theme honors its own internal logic, and it all coheres emotionally over the course of 75 minutes. Anderson's greatest gift as a performer has always been her skill as a storyteller, and she's rarely delivered a more satisfying or heartfelt work than she has on Heart of a Dog; this cycle has been written and delivered with her typical intelligence and dry wit, but she opens up about herself and her feelings in a way that's not typical for the artist, and as she reels from sharing very funny recordings of Lolabelle playing with an electronic keyboard to a heart-rendering memory of her mother's final moments of life, Anderson offers a story that speaks eloquently about joy and sorrow, sharing a deeply personal tale that has something to say to practically anyone who has cared for another being, either with two legs or four. And Anderson wisely and gracefully gives Reed the last word, with his song "Turning Time Around" (from the 2000 album Ecstasy), adding a splendid coda to the proceedings. Heart of a Dog isn't a typical tale of a girl and her pooch -- it's an album only Laurie Anderson could make, even as its sense of joy and tragedy sets it apart from her best-known work. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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World - Released September 24, 2019 | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

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World - Released July 25, 2019 | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

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Christmas Music - Released December 10, 2019 | eMinor Inc - Misty Music Ab

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Country - Released May 15, 2019 | eMinor Inc - Misty Music Ab

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