Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet ‘Landfall’

Beauty, magic and catastrophe. All those elements are in “Landfall”, but arranged in the best way possible
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Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet is a marriage made in Heaven. Well, Heaven if you’re a Guardian reading, Radio 4 loving, slightly left of centre liberal. The kind of person who goes to Art galleries voluntarily. Of course, that’s not strictly true, but one can imagine that demographic salivating profusely over this pairing.  Often, these collaborations leave a little to be desired – cast your mind back a few years to when Lou Reed (ironically, Mr Laurie Anderson) and Metallica bludgeoned their way through the “Lulu” album. Fast forward to 2017 and consider the rather lacklustre combination of The Staves and yMusic on “The Way is Read” . Both promised much. Both delivered little. In the case of “Landfall”, the results are better than we could have hoped for.

You can take for granted that the level of musicianship on this album is incredible. The Kronos Quartet, augmented by Anderson’s modified violin and some beautifully arranged digital treatments, make the album a delight to listen to. “Landfall” combines instrumental pieces with some idiosyncratic spoken word interludes, on which, Anderson is backed up sympathetically by the ensemble and the instrumentation never gets in the way of some fascinating word play. Ostensibly, the album takes us on a journey through the eye of Hurricane Sandy which ripped through the US and the Caribbean in 2012 . Occasionally, Anderson leads us into some very interesting and unusual places and the Kronos Quartet provide a luscious backdrop.

“Dreams” is a fascinating piece – starting off with what sounds like someone diligently sawing through a log while something drones ominously behind it, and just when you’re getting used to that, along comes a burst of discordant violin. As the narrative unfolds, we learn about Anderson’s hatred of people discussing the minutiae of their dreams, which then morphs into a bizarre tale involving a naked recording session in a German recording studio. It’s as compulsive as “Oh Superman”. Twisted, but in a good way. “Nothing Left but Their Names” is something else altogether. Anderson, her voice pitch shifted into a strange, otherworldly timbre, describes a book about extinct species of animals.  Then she turns from that to the Hebrew alphabet. Quite what this has to do with Hurricane Sandy is unclear, but it’s fascinating. It’s also been superbly recorded – basses are rich and every instrument is distinct and perfectly placed.

When Miss Anderson isn’t sharing her insight on a range of off-piste topics, she blends in beautifully with the Kronos Quartet. Their violins, cello and viola sound right at home amidst the subtle electronica of tracks like “The Water Rises” and “Galaxies”. On “Built You a Mountain” and “Dawn of the World”, they also get to sound downright sinister. The best example of their integration is on “The Wind Lifted the Boats and Left Them on the Highway” where they fill in the details in front of the rhythmic pulse generated by a fragment of a backwards sample. It’s incredibly eerie, but strangely accessible. The same could be said of the entire album.

There are 30 tracks on “Landfall”. Some are fragments lasting less than a minute and only one, the nine minutes plus “Nothing Left But Their Names”, lasts over three and a half. Tracks bleed into each other, giving the album a feeling of forward motion, as if you’re drifting around in a chaotic landscape. On “Everything is Floating” Anderson describes what is was like to see all her possessions swept away by the flood “How beautiful, how magic and how catastrophic”. Beauty, magic and catastrophe. All those elements are in “Landfall”, but arranged in the best way possible

“Landfall” is available now via Nonesuch Records

The track listing is as follows

  1. CNN Predicts a Monster Storm
  2. Wind Whistles Through the Dark City
  3. The Water Rises
  4. Our Street Is a Black River
  5. Galaxies
  6. Darkness Falls
  7. Dreams
  8. Dreams Translated
  9. The Dark Side
  10. Built You a Mountain
  11. The Electricity Goes out and We Move to a Hotel
  12. We Learn to Speak yet Another Language
  13. Dawn of the World
  14. The Wind Lifted the Boats and Left Them on the Highway
  15. It Twisted the Street Signs
  16. Then It Receded
  17. The Nineteen Stars of Heaven 
  18.  Nothing Left but Their Names
  19. All the Extinct Animals
  20. Galaxies II
  21. Never What You Think It Will Be
  22. Thunder Continues in the Aftermath
  23. We Blame Each Other for Losing the Way
  24. Another Long Evening
  25. Riding Bicycles Through the Muddy Streets
  26. Helicopters Hang Over Downtown
  27. We Head Out
  28. Everything Is Floating
  29. Gongs and Bells Sing
  30. Old Motors and Helicopters