We Are The Works In Progress [6.8]
Benefit compilations have a history of provoking mixed reactions. On the one hand, you have success stories like the Red Hot Organization’s Dark Was The Night, a cohesive bundle of previously unreleased folk-rock gems produced by Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National. On the other hand there’s Songs For Japan, a collaborative project in which industry bigwigs simply repackaged previously released tracks from stylistically disparate pop icons.
We Are The Works In Progress, a project created by Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead, creates a tonal atmosphere apropos of the album’s purpose: to support the efforts of healing post-tsunami Japan. The previously unreleased collection of songs varies from the reflective, understated, and ambient, to the more urgent, tense, and upbeat.
The album’s opener is the beautifully subtle “Moma” from Four Tet, a pulsing electro-tune that sprinkles keys like raindrops and thrums with softly distorted synths. “Penny Sparkle” from Blonde Redhead is a somber, driving trek of soft chords, through which Makino “oooh”s and “aaah”s her way. In the album’s middle, Pantha Du Prince thumps through eight minutes of the atmospheric “Bird on a Wire”, a beat-heavy track that prominently features a reverberated autoharp. John Maus’ “Castles in the Grave”, the compilation’s most upbeat—and perhaps best—song, is comprised of delayed keyboard, whispered, echoing vocals, and short, screaming bursts of synthesizer. “Song Seven” by Interpol seems stylistically at odds with the rest of the album, but its position at the end of the compilation and its driving, haunting nature as an Interpol song justify its inclusion.
The album’s less accessible moments sound more or less like “study music,” and seem to have taken cues from the project’s title. Karin Dreijer Andersson’s (Fever Ray, The Knife) song “No Face” is a wordless repetitive meditation on monkish chanting that feels unfinished. Deerhunter’s “Curve” is an instrumental ambient drone that breaks into a soft rhythm in the fifth and final minute, a track that sounds borrowed from the band’s earlier, more experimental catalogue. The compilation’s longest and most unusual track, “G Song” by Terry Riley, goes back and forth between raspy vocals with organ accompaniment to theatrical, arpeggiating swirls of harp, horns, and chimes that bring to mind soundtracks from the Zelda video-game franchise.
We Are The Works In Progress is a well-constructed compilation. It doesn’t contain many stand-alone hits that are worth the purchase alone, but its mood and atmosphere are an appropriate reflection on the tragedy it aims to help heal. It may not be as financially successful as Songs For Japan, or as critically acclaimed as Dark Was The Night, but it’s a cohesive piece of sonic art that effectively serves its purpose as a reflective medium and healing agent.
words by Christian Koons
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