Saphy Vong (Neo Geodesia) describes 2562 Neon Flames as “compositional schizophrenia or absurd fusion,” but the album is much more than that. As advertised, these sounds are fractured, dislodged, haphazardly stapled and sonically all over the map. This produces a disorienting experience, during which one is unsure exactly what will happen next, what angle it will come from and what it will sound like. This is exactly what the entire world has felt like over the last year and a season. The ground has been constantly shifting beneath our feet, leaving us able to get our bearings. Grief has attacked without notice and stayed around longer than natural: grief upon grief, displacement upon displacement, leaving thought scattered and shattered.
Two years ago, Vong lost his mother Chun Leng during the Khmer New Year celebrations: sorrow in the place that had been reserved for celebration. This album is dedicated to her. During COVID, the artist was unable to return to Cambodia. Organs, a funeral orchestra and mourners factor into this project, but all are disrupted or disruptive; nothing is stable but instability. The album begins with a festival, but doesn’t stay there; it may be the hope of a festival. A lone voice, then crashes of thunder that break up the flute, then flute that breaks up the thunder, then a marching band, video game electronics, mallets and crashing chords. We are two minutes and two tracks into the album.
The restless nature of the music reflects that of the mind in crisis. Ideas stroll and gallop through the brain. Commercials and news snippets lodge in loops. Memories emerge, then morph to the point one questions their validity. A person settles on a feeling, then changes it. By “Wat Ang Ta Minh វត្តអង្គតាមិញ,” a chanting beat has developed. We rest in a rhythm, a momentary island of security. We know it will be taken away, but we cling to it like predictability, itself an illusion.
A slower portion is interrupted by whistles and screeches. Is there no peace? Not this year. And when applause visits, it does so only momentarily; we must hold onto tiny victories. In contrast, “Peritonitis Miasma Roses” seeps sorrow before dissipating into “37 Tung Krapeu,” whose gentle tone is smashed by hammer and drone. Will we ever land safely? Will we ever get back home?
Just as the album is about to end, its sweetest melody bubbles to the surface. “Typhoon Ω Moni Mekhala” produces an unexpected feeling of peace. We remember that while life often shocks us with sudden tragedy, it can also yield sudden serenity. And this, finally, is the wonder of life: the knowledge that goodness and grace will one day cycle around again. (Richard Allen)