Rumpus Sound Takes: Coming Apart Together

By

Various Artists
We Are the Works in Progress
(Asa Wa Kuru)

Songs that belong together make each other better.

And when those songs are gathered from different artists, combining ideas and perspectives, they speak to each other and emerge as a new, whole thing.

We Are the Works in Progress was put together by Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead. Born in Kyoto, Makino responded to last year’s devastating tsunami by seeking out musicians she admires. The result is a compilation marked by its continuity and coherence, even as its tracks stretch and shift with a restless urgency.

There’s a distinct sense of possibility in both the album’s title and the name Makino chose for Blonde Redhead’s new record label: Asa Wa Kuru, Japanese for “morning will come.” Many of the tracks are in fact unfinished, presented as one potential direction for the music to go, which reinforces that sense of possibility.

Tragedies beget benefits, but We Are the Works in Progress avoids the traps of slapdash genre mashing, celebrity hand-holding and the “look-at-me” gloss of affected compassion. Fourteen songs won’t heal a country. Still, this is music that speaks the language of post-tragedy necessity: reinvention, recombination, rebuilding, the essential fluidity of decision-making, and a nod to impermanence.

The album begins with the icy electronica of Four Tet’s “Moma,” with its repeating keyboard melody that ultimately gives way to layers of pulsating drums and percussion. As “Moma” fades away, all that’s left is the jittery beat, leading into the wordless vocal of “No Face,” from Karin Dreijer Andersson of Fever Ray. The endlessly reverberating echoes of the latter bring to mind a vast solitude.

Following that, composer Terry Riley provides a newly reworked song from the 1970s. At nearly nine minutes, “G Song” is a reworking that won’t sit still. It’s a pop/soul song at its core, but it’s handed first to electronica, then to baroque pop, then set to spin wildly, winding down in a swirl of chanting and lost melodies returned.

Riley’s vocals are a rarity on the album, a fact that makes Makino’s contribution stand out as well. Blonde Redhead’s “Penny Sparkle” is presented in a new remix from Drew Brown. Set beside a haunting, slow-drop trip-hop beat, Makino’s fragile vocals drift and glow, flickering with sorrow.

As if in reply, Pantha Du Prince’s eight-minute “Bird on a Wire” follows, with ambient tones and a steady, calming rhythm.

Makino’s skilled and insightful sequencing gives the music a continuity and fluidity that make even the most electronic of the songs bristle with suggestions of nature, of vastness and energy.  The side-by-side transitions that link these sometimes fragmented tracks and musical ideas create seamless moments of overlap.

Because of the strong cohesion across its various songs, We Are the Works in Progress functions as a cohesive work of art. In that regard, its conceptual function is realized as well. Even approaching the album without knowledge of its occasion, its curator’s vision or the tsunami that left much of Japan in ruins, a listener will discover in the music an ever-shifting sense of tension, guided by the eerie expansiveness that unites the songs.

Makino describes the songs as under-explored versions of songs that wouldn’t typically fit on an album. The compilation’s achievement, then, is its conveyance of optimism in response to tragedy. We Are the Works in Progress is somber and meditative, an album that evokes a complexity of emotions. In showcasing vulnerability as well as strength, it’s neither a downer nor incongruously bright. It’s an album that drops the notion of big answers and suggests simply an eagerness for a new day.

Makino’s skilled and insightful sequencing gives the music a continuity and fluidity that make even the most electronic of the songs bristle with suggestions of nature, of vastness and energy.  The side-by-side transitions that link these sometimes fragmented tracks and musical ideas create seamless moments of overlap.

Because of the strong cohesion across its various songs, We Are The Works In Progress functions as a cohesive work of art. In that regard, its conceptual function is realized as well. Even approaching the album without knowledge of its occasion, its curator’s vision or the tsunami that left much of Japan in ruins, a listener will discover in the music an ever-shifting sense of tension, guided by the eerie expansiveness that unites the songs.

Makino describes the songs as under-explored versions of songs that wouldn’t typically fit on an album. The compilation’s achievement, then, is its conveyance of optimism in response to tragedy. We Are The Works In Progress is somber and meditative, an album that evokes a complexity of emotions. In showcasing vulnerability as well as strength, it’s neither a downer nor incongruously bright. It’s an album that drops the notion of big answers and suggests simply an eagerness for a new day.


Eric Swedlund is a writer, photographer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. His music writing has appeared regularly in the Tucson Weekly, Phoenix New Times, East Bay Express and Souciant Magazine. He plays rhythm guitar in the Good Little Thieves. More from this author →