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Various Artists

We Are the Works in Progress

(Asa Wa Kuru; US: 7 Feb 2012; UK: 7 Feb 2012)

If you are feeling low and like it

The human costs of the earthquake, tsunami and partial nuclear meltdown in Japan have been tremendous. The people’s suffering and the high radiation levels continue, but news about what is going on in the Land of the Rising Sun has largely disappeared in the American press. That was so last year, which is one reason why the fundraising compilation disc, We Are the Works in Progress, is such a good idea. The album brings attention to the fact that serious problems still exist. The disc’s proceeds go to the Japan Society Earthquake Relief Fund and Architecture for Humanity. The only question is whether one should just donate to the cause or buy the record. That answer is not so clear-cut


The 14 unreleased tracks here belong to that experimental electronic ambient genre of mostly serial repitition by such notables in the field as Four Tet, Terry Riley and Deerhunter. The effort was spearheaded by Japanese musician Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead, who also perform on the record. There is a sameness to the material that the uninitiated will confuse for cohesiveness, in the way someone unfamiliar with the works of the National, Arcade Fire and My Morning Jacket might mistake one of these band’s versions of alternative rock for each other. But the differences are substantial and important, even if the techno creations of We Are the Works in Progress share a surface similarity.


While many of the tracks come off as the incomplete demos that they in actuality probably are, this fits in with the album’s theme of rebuilding Japan. However, none of the songs really have a positive vibe. They drone more than uplift. Even the album’s lightest tunes, such as David Sylvain and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Bamboo House”, never really brighten the mood. As a whole the disc comes across as somber. No surprise, really. Guess what? A magnitude 9.0 seismic eruption devastated the country and everyone gets solemn in relation to the events and its consequences. The songs were not created with this is mind, but they seem subliminally chosen in this respect.


No wonder the cuts have dark titles such as “Castles in the Grave” (John Maus), “No Face” (Karin Dreijer Andersson) and “Nightcrawler” (Nosaj Thing), and that even ones with optimistic titles such as Broadcast’s “In Here the World Begins” come off as negative. Yes, the world begins in chaos but even the birds’ chirping sounds of “In Here the World Begins” can’t escape the general murkiness of the track.


The uninitiated into this musical genre might find this boring, and those who are into the sound may find it gloomy, but that does not mean the music is not worth hearing. Sometimes, glum is good, like a rainy days with coffee and smokes. It depends on your mood. So if you want to feel better about yourself, make a donation to help the people in Japan recover from their recent disaster. They still needs lots of assistance. And if you are feeling low and like it, buy this without reflecting on the help your purchase brings and listen to the soundtrack to your life.

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Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.


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