Ngoc Khue – Giot Suong Bay Len

The ever-changing Ngoc Khue is moving on without Le Minh Son. Her junior solo, Giot Suong Bay Len, marks a fresh transmogrification in her musical direction. Together with an imaginative producer Phan Cuong who weaved traditional instruments into contemporary grooves, red dragonfly Ngoc Khue casts her voodoo spells into Nguyen Vinh Tien’s avant-garde folklore compositions that are based on the form of ca tru.

What makes the album so hypnotizing is the constant metamorphosis in Ngoc Khue’s presentations, which are full of tumult. She pushes and pulls her deliveries, ebbs and flows her vocals, bends and glides her phrasings to give her performances both playful and doleful effects. On “Giac Mo Dai Dang,” she transforms her voice into a child and invites the bell to ring with her own playful vocalization while the traditional string (dan bau) plucks against the upbeat rhythm. Elsewhere she starts off the title track with a spirit-possession ritual called len dong. By the time she’s into the trance, the funereal horn improvises over the mid-tempo beat to support her spiritual ecstasy. In the dirge-like sound of “Loi Hat Vong Nuoc Xoay,” her singing is like a threnody in memory of those who lost their lives in the twisted flow of water. In contrast, she knows how to ride her youthfulness along the groovy acoustic bass lines and exotic timbre of dan bau in “Trai Lang Toi.” It’s about time there’s a dedication to the boys in the (countryside) hood. Most of the traditional songs are about the ladies.

While many Vietnamese singers make marketable albums to put food on the table, Ngoc Khue stays true to her art. She doesn’t like to fit in and although she doesn’t say it, her album suggests a fuck-you-if-you-don’t-feel-me attitude. So those antediluvian expatriates who still love Vietnamese music just like the way she was thirty years ago shouldn’t even come near this unconventional music. It would be too modern for your damn ancient taste.