“We Are the Works in Progress”
(Asa Wa Kuru)
The Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan last year left the country—as well as the rest of the world—observing nervously in a state of flux and uncertainty. Mirroring that sentiment is the new benefit album “We Are the Works in Progress,” which is comprised of exclusive, unfinished tracks and an assortment of rarities from mostly electronically-leaning musicians.
Framed in the context of the disaster, the double album has an undercurrent of sadness but also hopefulness, manifested in the name of the new record label, Asa Wa Kuru, which means “morning will come.” Kazu Makino—who is originally from Japan—is the project’s compiler and organizer, and her own band Blonde Redhead contributes a somber remix of the title track of 2010’s Penny Sparkle plus a remix of the Liars’ track “Drip,” which features Makino on vocals.
Minimalist composer Terry Riley’s “G Song” is a strange, head-scratching, nine-minute piece and a reworking of a decades-old song, with Riley in lounge singer mode and cascading organ and keyboard runs. Karin Dreijer Andersson, best known as one half of the Swedish electronic duo The Knife, offers “No Face” with jittery notes and echoing pitch-lowered “ohs” mapping out melodies.
Despite the album’s theme of presenting purposefully undercooked tracks, two of the compilation’s three clear standouts are previously released, fully crafted songs: Broadcast’s “In Here the World Begins,” a compelling song with a slightly irregular rhythm loop and an uneasy fuzzy sonic cloud; and the 1982 electro-pop track “Bamboo Houses” from Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylvian, the same pairing responsible for the more famous “Forbidden Colours.”
The album’s third highlight is Deerhunter’s barely there, ambient “Curve,” with soft, gentle tones pulsating together and occasional bell rings serving as punctuation. The song’s surprise ending, with an emerging ride cymbal beat, suggests that it’ll all come together in the end harmoniously.
The Swedish jazz sextet Je Suis!, led by trumpeter and composer Niklas Barnö, is a slippery beast with an adventurous, invigorating spirit and a surprising amalgam of genre nods. The group’s debut CD, Mistluren, is an animated, charged 76-minute romp featuring both studio and live recordings, imbued with both reverent and irreverent moods and influences from ‘60s avant-garde jazz masters. The approach on Mistluren brings to mind such ambitious albums as Don Cherry’s Symphony for Improvisers, but with a less busy manner that focuses the listener’s attention rather than scattering it. Driving motifs anchor the pieces at key moments, evoking tunes similar to Raymond Scott’s classic “Powerhouse” or even sophisticated spy-film soundtracks; at other times, energetic New Orleans brass band numbers or spontaneous, interstellar free jazz explosions come to mind. “Östermalm” is one of the album’s most striking tracks, with a stirring clarion call that inspires a triumphant attitude, before the proceedings get chaotic and somewhat cacophonous; in a way, it suggests saxophonist Albert Ayler’s possessed spirit-channeling of marching band music.
The album goes through cycles of energy-release and calmness, and “Lyrikern” (translated as “Poet”) has the tranquility of a sobering early morning walk. However, it’s followed by the dynamic “Odjuret och Odjuret” (“Beast and the Beast”), with an irresistibly discordant vamp with brass and a piano playing an intense run in unison; double bassist Joel Grip provides a mid-song solo that veers straight into free improv territory, using a command of abstract harmonics to generate intriguing timbres. Similar abstractions are used on “Eyafjallajökull” to complicate the otherwise foggy, solemn mood, giving way to a messy, yet enriching lurch of layered sounds, textures, and cymbal washes. It’s an impressive debut with rigorous moments, but its spirit is ultimately dominated by a playful attitude, making it an enjoyable listen and not a calculated exercise.