Is Ngủ Ngày Ngay Ngày Tận Thế (Sleeping Through the Apocalypse) drone, trap, future pop, experimental, industrial, electronic? Yes, all of these. Vietnamese band Rắn Cạp Đuôi is “thirsty for fresh combinations of sounds,” and comes through in a big way, aided by Ziúr on production, her own album recently released and reviewed. This has already been a great year for hybrids of regional music and harsh electronics (bela, Don Zilla, Neo Geodesia), and Subtext is the perfect label to promote such a sound. The dark timbres of other Subtext artists ~ such as Roly Porter, Aho Ssan and PYUR in particular ~ are in good company here.
Not that the band wants to be dark. The album rose from the death of a member’s father, but is conceived as “a celebration of life,” or of all life’s facets, whether shaded or illuminated. The traditional timbres of Vietnamese folk music run rampant throughout the recording, while newer styles lodge in the cracks and frequently take over the station. During many portions of the recording, listeners may be tempted to dance; at other times such activities are nigh-impossible, thwarted by extended periods of abstraction and drone. And yet the set is never less than fascinating, a pot-pourri of styles that is intensely vibrant and alive.
Sure, the album begins with sweetly sung scales; but already, skittering rhythms are accumulating in the background. Intimidating beats begin to pound, then give way mid-piece, replaced by more benevolent demons, only to return for a second round. “Eri Eri Eri Eri Eri Rama Rama Rama Rama Rama,” the album’s least radio-friendly piece, ironically begins with a radio dial being turned. Do we want that sweet romantic pop? Not really, but we enjoy hearing it smashed to pieces.
The album takes a long, beautiful breather in “Mực nang,” which begins with something like a call to prayer and a series of increasingly rapid hits on a ceremonial drum. But then a gorgeous gauze descends, scrubbing the atmosphere in its wake like snow. The collective can slow down after all. Their ability to meld introspection with extroversion is rare in modern music. The ensuing piece comes across as jarring, due to a repeated phrase that sounds like “bite me harder” – or is this just what we make of a foreign tongue? “Aztec Glue” is a strong recovery, a thick, (mostly) danceable piece that flips into sampledelica in its final minute. And “Đme giựt mồng” is a fitting finale that leaves one wanting more. Let’s be careful what we wish for; the collective once played a nonstop, two day set! With that much energy, we’re confident they won’t be running out of ideas any time soon. Apocalypse? What apocalypse? (Richard Allen)