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Hanoi Masters: War Is A Wound, Peace Is A Scar
Glitterbeat 021CD (

Radio Vietnam
Sublime Frequencies CD095 (

These two LPs, both recorded in Vietnam, fit together in this review no better than a CAFO full of corn fed, corporate cattle and a back yard full of organic mustard greens. Whatever the case, they have a country in common. So here they are. Hanoi Masters: War Is A Wound, Peace Is A Scar, apparently the first volume in Glitterbeat's Hidden Musics series, is a gem. Yet, it's not like anything here hasn't been heard before. The twang of Vietnamese mono-chord instruments has appeared on labels ranging from Folkways to Ocora. But that doesn't keep this collection from perhaps being the greatest assortment of buoyant, hardcore, exceedingly rare folk-based music from a particularly fertile sliver of southeast Asia ever released.

There's the rumble of the two-stringed bass fiddle on a track titled “Gratitude,” slithering vocal and zither duos, and a mouth harp track, so liquid in its reverberations as to spook all but the most devoted listeners. Finally, there's the eight-minute hand percussion and vocal elegy to a death spirit. It's impossible to write about why this music is so fantastic. It has to be dealt with. The fact that these are sounds made by people who remember the “American War” of the 1960's and 70's is important, but its majesty transcends producer Ian Brennan's focus. This isn't a documentation of folk song from a particular political place and time; instead, it's Vietnamese music as played by the people who have kept its spirit percolating, in all its slide-filled, clang-saturated glory. A better compilation of such sounds there isn't.

* * * * *

Which brings us to the latest in Sublime Frequencies' confounding, mapless, aural travelogues into “the other.” Like their other radio series recordings, Radio Vietnam is a jarring stew. Here we have politically charged transistor snippets, news in English, ESL lessons, Vietnamese electric slide street guitar, lo-fi, synth drenched pop not unlike the grooves from neighboring Cambodia and Thailand, and hit-and-run hunks of ethnic minority music that somehow got caught up in the mix. The track titles, as usual, only enhance the confounding collage. “Morning Exercise in the Coded Ether,” for example, starts with digital beats, but switches abruptly to what sounds like a Martian pronouncing doom over a zither and feedback, only to be interrupted by a young Vietnamese woman speaking about something made esoteric by its lack of context before some of the most gorgeous electric guitar balladry ever copped from radio appears. This then is interrupted again by water chimes, incantations, socialist radio and perhaps what truly is an exercise regimen. And all of this takes about five minutes.

To go through this track by track seems as futile as trying to alleviate US poverty while Republicans have control of government. On and on this collection goes, perhaps useless to Vietnamese in country, but likely a joy to the few expats to hear it. But for the audience this is no doubt aimed at, it's another blunt missive fired at an already media-saturated west from a label whose early novelty has long been replaced by some seriously profound collections. Whether or not this CD-only release finds itself amongst them doesn't really matter. Oh, and Woody Guthrie even appears for a millisecond. - Bruce Miller

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