Warning: This album is an experience. It’s not an album to put on at a party unless you want to make people cry and leave. At times, this album will make you uncomfortable. At other times, more importantly, it will help you understand loss. Best to listen alone or with a friend who knows what they’re in for. Handle with care.
Yippee!!! Doesn’t this sound fun! Let’s dive in!
You know the song “Hide and Seek” from Imogen Heap. If you don’t know the title, you may know the Saturday Night Live skit called “Dear Sister,” which some people (like me) refer to as, “Ooohhh what cha sayy-ayy”. That’s the Imogen Heap song. When I first heard this song, all I could think of was Laurie Anderson. It has the same pitch shift and harmonizing technique on her song, “Oh Superman”. You know the one, it’s everywhere now. It’s the one every-fucking-rapper uses that makes their voice jump up pitch.
Anyway, this doesn’t accurately describe Laurie at all. There’s much more to her than this.
If you read about Laurie Anderson, the word polymath comes up a lot. This is a lazy way of not listing her accomplishments and just saying she’s smart at a lot of things. This lady invented a violin that uses magnetic tape instead of strings. That’s right, INVENTED motherfucker! She also invented (yes invented, as in white lab coats and shit) another thing called a “talking stick”, which is basically a sampler put into a staff that you control with your touch. It’s nerdcore and fucking cool. Laurie became popular for blending avant-garde art with pop in the ’80s. I would say she’s like the Velvet Underground, but then Laurie dated Lou Reed in ’92, married him in ’08 and was with him until his death, so a comparison doesn’t seem like enough. She’s trained in violin and sculpting, she’s a performance artist and composer, a director and a multimedia artist. If it’s smart and artsy then Laurie has her smell on it. On this album, she works with Kronos Quartet. The badass motherfucker of quartets.
Onto the album: Hurricane Sandy flooded Laurie Anderson’s home in October 2012. This is when a 32.5-foot wave decided to come crash into New York Harbour. Laurie wanted to document this flood and hurricane as a multimedia project. This album is a recording of this multimedia project. If you want, you can go on YouTube and watch some of it. Though, watch it on a day you feel like experiencing a piece of art. Don’t listen to it in the car on the way to work. This is a sit down thing.
Is this a weird fucking album? Of course it’s a weird fucking album! It’s Laurie-fucking-Anderson! If you wanted nice songs, you’d be somewhere else by now. This album is dark and watery. No shit, right? It’s about a fucking flood. But it’s amazing to hear these elements put into strings and electronic media.
The title of each song tells the story: “CNN Predicts a Monster Storm,” “The Water Rises”, “The Electricity Goes Out and We Move to a Hotel”, “Then It Receded”, “Riding Bicycles Through Muddy Streets”. Laurie does these voice overs every once in a while. Her stories are entertaining, though, at first, you don’t know they’re there.
This is an album about loss. And, holy fucking shit, is it anxious and bleak. I was about to shut if off a couple times. But there are a few things that kept me from doing so. One of them being those little voiceovers I talked about before. The other is that as an art piece, this is well made. It gives you enough of that sweet so it can keep punching you in the face. A good piece of contemporary art is like having an abusive husband named Charlie from the 1930s: He will make you uncomfortable. Sometimes, he will make you hate yourself. But he will reward you just enough so you can handle the fucking weight of his existence and a couple bruises. Unlike Charlie, this art piece has a purpose.
This is a voice over from Laurie in the song, “Everything is Floating”
“And after the storm, I went down to the basement and everything was floating: lots of my old keyboards, dirty projectors, props from old performances, a fibreglass plane, a motorcycle, countless papers and books. And I looked at them floating there in the shiny dark water, dissolving, all the things I’d carefully saved for all my life, becoming nothing but junk. And I thought, ‘how beautiful, how magic, and how catastrophic’.”