Music: Laurie Anderson * * * *
Some weeks ago, Laurie Anderson performed in front of Sydney Opera House. It was, she noted, "the most amazing concert I've ever gotten to give".
It was also a gig with a difference. The audience was comprised of dogs -- and their owners -- and the music was specifically designed for our canine friends, with most of it completely silent to human ears.
It's good to know that the avant-garde performance artist remains as gloriously bonkers as the figure who emerged from the New York art world in 1981 to enjoy a UK number two single with O Superman -- still one of the strangest charting songs ever.
I'm not sure what dogs would make of her latest studio album, Homeland, but our two cats seemed to be very calmed by its 12 tracks, especially the ambient, wistful early songs.
Produced by her husband Lou Reed -- himself no stranger to challenging art: he has recently taken his much maligned Metal Machine Music on the road -- and longtime collaborator Roma Baran, Homeland offers a meditation on America in somewhat the same vein of her most celebrated album, United States I--IV.
Over a moody, textured soundtrack that's somewhere between Eno and Four Tet (in fact the latter's Kieran Hebden guests here), Anderson speaks-sings unashamedly intellectual lyrics that offer a searing, unsentimental and occasionally darkly funny take on her homeland.
The album's centrepiece is the 11-minute long Another Day in America -- a dark composition on which she looks at the ills of male authority (and here the album cover in which her image is 'masculined' makes sense) while also meditating on some of life's bigger questions.
Elsewhere, Transitory Life is haunting, especially when Anderson's slowed down vocals are paired with a Tuvan throat singer. It's unlike anything else you will hear this year.
Granted, this being Laurie Anderson, there's inevitable over-indulgence (although that's like a football fan complaining that Ronaldo over-preens), but it may surprise some how engaging and accessible much of this album is.
Antony Hegarty fans will be glad to hear that his incomparable singing is present too, and his wonderfully evocative vocals work very well with the spare, minimalist music.
Burn it: Another Day in America; Falling; Transitory Life