Laurie Anderson remembers, W-X squirms and brims
Heart of a Dog
Once, when this writer heard Laurie Anderson give a talk in Birmingham in 2006, Anderson spoke about being the first (and last) Artist-in-Residence for NASA. Anderson, who grew her reputation in the ’80s as an incredibly imaginative artist, performer and electronics-inclined instrument inventor with hugely ambitious multi-media stage performances including United States and Home of the Brave, was asked by her NASA colleagues what she had in store for them. Anderson told them she was thinking of writing...a poem. Going by the looks on their faces, that was not exactly what they were expecting.
Although some consider Anderson to be a leader of the avant-garde scene, in a 2010 interview with Salon, she said, “Just to be interesting is, to me, what the avant-garde is about, and that’s not enough for me.” With all the pioneering work Anderson has done with multi-media at the intersection of technology and art, it seems like Anderson has nothing left to prove on that front.
Anderson’s take on Lady Gaga, in the aforementioned interview, reveals her current mindset: “She’s a lot of fun, but I’ve never had my heart broken. That’s what I’m always looking for.”
Anderson’s latest album, Heart of a Dog, which is also a feature-length film, is heart-breaking, but in the best possible way; its focus is on the death of her beloved rat terrier Lolabelle, but it weaves in a number of topics—9/11, her mother’s death, dreams, childhood mishaps—as a grand meditation on sadness, love and death that is never overwrought or mawkish, with clear articulations that have profound resonance.
Its final track, performed by Anderson’s late partner Lou Reed, is its only conventional song, with the bulk of the album being Anderson providing narration over atmospheric soundbeds.
With Anderson’s calm voice, there are light moments among the dark, including a segment on Lolabelle’s “reasonably good” keyboard-playing abilities (with an adorable example), and with the same voice, she leads the listener through a compelling imagining of Lolabelle’s 49 days spent “in the bardo” post-death, according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Heart of a Dog is a rare, deeply affecting album and Anderson’s best in the last 20 years, once again revealing her as a master storyteller.
It seems like Tim Presley, the fellow behind the lo-fi recording project W-X, is incapable of going from Point A to Point B in a straight line, like a jittery third grader squirming in his desk and brimming with energy.
The prolific recording artist seems to take simple ideas, bend them and apply duct tape to them until they are presentable and just keep adding more stuff to them. The songs on the debut self-titled W-X album are both messy and fun, and typically, bedroom recording studio experiments and oddball noodling don’t sound this good.
The Californian, who is also in the psychedelic group Darker My Love and has collaborated with The Fall and Ty Segall, has released solo material under the name White Fence, which is like a bizarro world version of Nuggets garage/psych rock, with pop and punk and folk-rock infusions, that may appeal to fans of R. Stevie Moore and Guided By Voices.
W-X is even stranger than White Fence, and although each song on the debut album is vaguely reminiscent of something from the past, it is never too close. Take “Running from the Dogs,” with has a post-punk dance vibe to it, along the lines of E.S.G., but it has too many odd details glued to it to make it a rip-off.
Presley loves a good riff, and tracks like “Brazilian Worm Band” feature riffs and loops of madness, delivered with a devilish glee. One trademark is a sort of glistening synth sound that is severely warped, and he creates sonic cascades punctured by interjecting drum beats on “Dancing Lips.”
The misleadingly titled instrumental “The Saddest Lyrics I Have Ever Written” takes a meandering keyboard melody and an intersecting bassline to evoke an off-balance feeling, leading to the closing “Hermit Stomp (Simple Times)” with Presley resembling a Brit atop a killer psychedelic loop.
Think of W-X as, perhaps, a 21st-century sibling to The Faust Tapes—gloriously indulgent low-fidelity fireballs of sound-loving alien garage rock/pop that’s nothing less than a pleasure.