V/A Sublime Frequencies titles roundup [Sublime Frequencies

Music Reviews
V/A Sublime Frequencies titles roundup [Sublime Frequencies
Dec 18, 2005, 18:16

VARIOUS ARTISTS Cambodian Cassette Archives: Khmer Folk and Pop Music Vol.1 CD VARIOUS ARTISTS Bush Mali Taxi: Field Recordings from Mali CD VARIOUS ARTISTS Radio India: The Dream of Eternal Sound 2xCD VARIOUS ARTISTS Broken Hearted Dragonflies: Insect Electronica from Southeast Asia CD

In this era of Bush-approved, cool-to-be-a-dumb-redneck, jingoistic xenophobia and the worldwide hate it fosters for our already culturally floundering nation, the sublimable, er, Sublime Frequencies label deserves heaps of righteous praise for bringing the outside world home to those of us who realize we're all still a part of it. Run by globe-trotting Sun City Girls bassist Alan Bishop, the imprint's catalog positively overflows with eye/ear/mind-opening fare like the four titles here.

Culled from long-deleted cassettes that somehow found their way to the Oakland, Calif., library, Cambodian Cassette Archives surveys the Khmer pop scene from the late 60s through the early 90s. The scarcity of this music can't be overstated: along with the country's artists, teachers, and intellectuals, almost every last musician in Cambodia was put to death as an enemy of the state when the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975 (the once wildly popular Sim Sisamouth, featured here, “simply disappeared” one afternoon). Like the tunes on the mysterious Cambodia Rocks comp of a few years back, the earliest tracks here are a wild fusion of Western psych/beat and twangy Khmer folk, capped with outer-space chipmunk voices. Too weird. The later material brings in more recent pop-rock and dance sounds but is no less odd.

Bush Mali Taxi is a spellbinding set of recordings collected on location in West Africa by label pal Tucker Martine in 1998. An invaluable illustration of the direct, ever vibrant roots of the blues and jazz—and in effect all subsequent Western popular music—the 14 selections here form a meandering, hypnotic tour of Mali: spectral Fulani flutes play call-and-response with afternoon birds and late-night crickets; a group of village children bang drums and sing into Martine's condenser mic; car horns and boomboxes blast away in an open-air market; and, with a goat bleating in the background, a wizened griot picks out a lulling melody on a ngoni, the ancestor of the banjo. Beautiful and dreamlike, this disc offers the reassuring evidence that not all African traditions have been lost to time.

For the adventurous, each installment of SF's continuing series of world radio collage is surreal salvation, and the Radio India set is utterly insane. Randomly sampled from the airwaves, it dumps the listener smack in the middle of the mystifying nation without a translator or a road map. The trancey, ancient folk sounds of sitar, tabla, harmonium, and ululating vocals collide with buzzing, modern, electric disco and pop, as raving announcers blast away and bizarre commercials intermingle with snatches of emphatic dialogue from radio dramas and talk shows. An endlessly surprising trip, this is the sound of the raging cultural beehives of Calcutta and Delhi crossing paths with the nomadic goat herders who roam India's open zones. To think that the label has an ever-growing roster of likewise great titles in the same series is just too much for our wallets to bear.

But by far the strangest offering here is Broken Hearted Dragonflies. Another disc of material collected by Martine, it features four lengthy recordings of the high-pitched, droning choirs of dragonflies and cicadas found in the remote areas of Laos, Thailand, and Burma. The title comes from the local explanation for the dead dragonflies who are found littering the ground: After mating, the males of the species emit the wild sounds heard here until their chests blow up and they fall to the ground. As its subtitle suggests, the little guys do indeed make their own weird, electronic-sounding “music,” an unreal noise that sometimes serves as the backdrop for the cries of exotic birds and other animals of the nighttime wilderness. If you're not able to make it down to the Southeast Asian jungle in the near future, this will put you there—for 40 minutes, anyway. [Sublime Frequencies] -Peter Aaron

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