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V/A - Thai Beat A Go-Go, Volume 3

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Artist: V/A

Album: Thai Beat A Go-Go, Volume 3

Label: Subliminal Sounds

Review date: Jul. 26, 2005

A handful of independent labels have recently begun offering fascinating glimpses of pop fusion from around the world while pretty much ignoring any attempts at ethnomusicology, the kind of stuff more scholarly listeners might well dismiss as disposable pan-cultural detritus. Thai Beat A Go -Go, Volume 3, the final installment in a series from the Swedish label Subliminal Sounds, offers yet more examples, in this case various Thai disco/classic rock/mellow rock pastiches from the ’70s and ’80s that are flush with surprising and pleasurable moments.

Snappy snares and disco high-hat pulse rule here, along with a plethora of classic analog synth sounds, and plenty of distorted rock guitar-god moves. The vocal textures – featuring some particularly enthralling male and female singers –will probably strike the Western listener as quintessentially Thai, but it’s the curiously antiseptic, bouncy, and quite compelling approach to disco-funk rhythms that might well be the single most exotic property here.

Signs of Siamese traditional and classical music are few and far between, although Jiraphand Ong-Ard’s “Thai Boxing,” a funky anthem of cultural pride (“Judo...Karate...forget them all. Here is something real!”) does manage to find some room for Thai percussion and traditional reed instruments along side a wah-wah guitar. The horn-accented groove sounds like a hip detective TV show theme from, say, 1974.

Many of the songs are covers of Western hits, filtered and remodeled through local sensibilities. Duangdao Mondara and Chailai’s girl-pop version of the classic tribute to Mumammad Ali, “The Black Superman,” is pure pleasure with a vocal that, like good Thai cuisine, is at once sweet, sour, salty and spicy. Other international styles show up as well: there are traces of the ubiquitous Indonesian Dangdut two-beat here and there, and at least one percussion and drunken carnival horn rave-up that could have come from a vintage Antillean cadence record.

The final track is an absolute treasure: check out The Law & The Sandy’s appropriately titled “Paradise In Bangkok” for some perfect Hank Marvin-style twangy guitar over what might pass for a Thai version of ska.

Listeners seeking an immersion in pure Southeast Asian culture will likely be disappointed by Thai Beat A Go-Go, Volume 3. But those willing to enjoy the way cheesy, crappy pop music can circle the globe, replicating and re-inventing itself along the way, will find plenty to smile about on this collection from the Land of Smiles.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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