When disaster strikes, big or small, you can bet that the two sides of the coin will be flipping relentlessly in the air, with no imminent sign of landing. On one side is the horror. The struggle, the worry, the atrocious aftermath and the inevitable fallout. On the other side, however, is that indomitable spirit of life that shakes everything down with the pang of a heart but the sense of mind to look forward, upwards and to improvement. It may be a simple hug, handshake or pep talk to a best friend, family member or lover, in the wake or some personal setback. Or, on a wider scale, it could be the Blitz-style fortitude that bands humans together in the collective rebuilding, born out of that gorgeous substance called hope and that unconquerable essence of will. Throughout human history, people have dusted themselves off and gone onwards. From the ashes of revolution to a far more recent, and local, issue, when certain sectors of the UK became riot hotspots, giving eventual life to a mass clean up effort, with a musical twist due to the senseless arsony that destroyed the PIAS and Sony stock warehouse, prompting a swift retaliation in the form of the Label Love fundraising body. This enormous history of recovery raises an important question within the artistic community. What role can art play in a major disaster?

On 11th March 2011, at around 5:45 GMT, a massive undersea earthquake struck Japan, around 40 miles east of the Tōhoku region. It lead to unmitigated ruin, as one of the most powerful quakes in recorded history, with 40 metre high tsunamis crashing into coastal regions, amassing an outrageous death total of around 15,700 (with thousands more injured and missing) and a petrifying nuclear scare, as a number of reactors overheated, exploded and released radioactive material in the wake of damaged power systems. Around 92% of deaths were victims of drowning and hundreds of thousands of families lost their homes and everything they ever knew. How does music or film or art respond to this? It goes without saying that time is needed to respond to any such disaster. Dramatisations, concept art or albums or stories utilising a disaster, soon after the event itself, are big no-nos. First and foremost is fundraising, as numerous charities dive headfirst into that powerful and difficult period of renewal and recuperation. Polyvinyl Records is an independent label based in the US, known for their ability to stretch across genres, countries and boundaries to give opportunities to a host of fantastic artists and musicians. They obviously felt that same shock, awe, upset and confusion over the natural blow to humanity. But, more importantly, they asked that same question; what do we do now? Their benefit compilation album, Japan 3.11.11, is a stomping response in order to raise money for the American Red Cross, to support the International Red Cross in their relief efforts.

A host of artists offered forth rare b-sides, covers, live versions and offcuts to pack out a 23 track record, full of the splendour, wonder and spectacle that makes up Polyvinyl. We begin the quirk and oddity inherent to certain acts on their roster. Kit and Xiu Xiu are the sort of artists who forge out their own, untrackable path, with Deerhoof’s opening ‘Giga Dance’ using intermittent blasts of noise and delicate vocal tiptoeing as a dramatic introduction to this ramshackle collection of songs that sum up that human attitude in such a state; dazed, disorientated but defiant. A cover of ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ byShugo Tokumaru is nothing short of astounding, with the multi-instrumentalist bringing kazoos, handclaps, xylophones and his own gentle vocal chords to bring an Eastern, stripped-back twist to a classic pop smash. An energetically upbeat remix of Of Montreal’s 'Sex Karma', by St Vincent, marks a breathy, glitch-filled dose of joy whilst Owen (aka Mike Kinsella) brings his deliciously neurotic indie thoughts to life in ‘Guest List’, sounding like Death Cab with a few shots of something sweet. Elsewhere we get Asobi Seksu stargazing away, Starfucker whirring and purring, toe attacking with a malfunctioning math rock mode and Caithlin De Marrais crooning in an archaic, warm whisper. Polyvinyl aren’t afraid to show their dark side either, showcasing a harder edge with the growl, grit and grr of Midstress and Lizard Police.

Pretty much exactly halfway through the record are Take Care, unleashing a seven-minute long track titled ‘Living Forever’. My minuscule bit of research has directed me to a Bandcamp and the possibility that these guys are from the hometown of Polyvinyl aka Urbana, Illinois. Otherwise, I have no idea who they are. Nonetheless, this song is nigh flawless in its expression of defiance in the face of an untold horror. 24 hour news rolling constant images of literal demolition, annihilation, death, despair and distress. They have been doing it for years, ever since we figured out how best to show everyone the worst of the world. Thankfully, we have remained truly human. Truly powerful enough to face it, feel it all and funnel it into something else. Whether that’s music, art or expression, or simply the will to do something. To donate time, money or effort. Or to merely change the way you live. To love more. To live more. In the midst of the song, the front man of Take Care utters out ‘You deserve an eternity’ before going towards a growling, guttural tone to cry out ‘You must invite them in’. This is the human quandary. The questions of mortality and the acceptance, understanding and hope to keep striving for something more. This is a record worth having for a multitude of reasons. For the cracking collection of rare tracks from a whole wealth of wondrous artists, for the charitable donation going directly to assist those in need and for the inner hope it may give you that we are all together on this world, and that so many of us truly care.