Although it has been almost a year since Japan’s devastating tsunami, the efforts to rebuild communities across the country are still much-needed and going strong. To many, the events of March 11, 2011 seem like a bleary dream; however, it's still an unfortunate reality for many citizens and Blonde Redhead frontwoman Kazu Makino has offered her hand during Japan’s time of need. Born in Kyoto, Japan, Makino turned to friends and fellow musicians in hopes of helping her homeland. With an incredible response, Makino's efforts yielded an album as well as an entire label.
Curated by the band, We Are The Works In Progress is a 14-song benefit albums that supports Japan’s ongoing post-tsunami efforts. Compiling tracks from some of the electronic world’s most prominent tastemakers, the album boasts an impressive roster that includes the likes of Four Tet, Deerhunter, Pantha du Prince, and Nosaj Thing. It’s a cohesive and brilliant album made up of many unreleased songs; the songs themselves being works in progress.
The album opens with the codeine-induced Four Tet track “Moma.” It sets a lush landscape with the help of minimal techno beats and ambient rhythms. For Four Tet fans there’s no disappointment here. The South London producer delivers a glitchy, repetitive track that could have easily fit into one of his prior albums -- a strong beginning to an impressive compilation.
As if opening with Four Tet isn’t enough, Karin Andersson (The Knife, Fever Ray) ushers in a dark mood with “No Face.” Originally written for an Ingmar Bergman play, “No Face” clocks in at 7:47, making the lyric-less and droning track seem endless. There’s a beauty to it that you first catch and it definitely holds your attention; however, it’s hard to not give a sigh of relief once you hear Terry Riley's uplifting voice on the follow-up track “G Song.”
Nosaj Thing’s “Nightcrawler” is an electric track that is as haunting as it is masterfully textured, building up the hovering darkness of the first few tracks before moving into the lighter spirit that characterizes the album's second half. John Robert’s “Berceuse” brings the album into a whole new mindspace and acts as the perfect intro to the airy Blonde Redhead track “Penny Sparkle.” From the first listen it’s clear why Makino and the band chose this particular song for the compilation. Makino’s voice is heavenly throughout, and the instrumentation is the final step in the change of atmosphere for the album.
The rest of the album is, on the whole, less interesting -- but there are a few highlights, including Pantha Du Prince’s “Bird on a Wire,” Deerhunter’s “Curve,” and John Maus’ “Castles in the Cave.” David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Bamboo House” is the only track on the second half as impressive as opener “Moma.” With an Asian influence, "Bamboo House" lulls listeners' ears before abruptly bringing in Sylvian’s vocals. Sakamoto has put together a vivid and elaborate track that would have rounded out the album beautifully.
After such an impressive track, it’s a bit disappointing to end with Interpol’s “Song Seven.” It’s completely unlike anything else on the album and has a hard time fitting itself in. Separate from the context of the album, it sounds like a well-rounded Interpol track; however, as the concluding thought, it takes away from the album. The sound is rougher and the first half feels as if it’s pulling you out of the dream state that Works In Progress worked so hard to establish.
Overall, We Are The Works In Progress is a beautifully assembled album that eases listeners into this dream world -- a world that moves from dark to light in little over an hour. Or perhaps Makino means for this to be our world, a sign to Japan that from sadness comes hope. It’s a truly intimate album and worth every penny for its double LP release. With proceeds going to Japan Society and Architecture for Humanity (among other charitable organizations), the music lives up to the album's admirable cause.