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Neung Phak 

Neung Phak

Wednesday, Dec 17 2003
Neung Phak began three years ago, when Mark and Erik Gergis of East Bay experimentalists Mono Pause visited Thailand for the first time. Stopping in a Bangkok nightclub, the brothers were enthralled by a cover band playing the local hits of the day. After making a DAT recording of the show, the duo discovered many of the originals at various cassette shops. Upon returning home with their bounty and hooking up with Diana Hayes -- then a singer with the Roofies and now with Dynasty -- the brothers convinced the other Mono Pausers to try out their own versions of the Thai material.

On its eponymous debut, Neung Phak (pronounced "noong pahk" and named after a Laotian banana-leaf entree) augments those initial tunes with covers of Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Taiwanese selections culled from the Asian branch of the Oakland Public Library -- each with phonetically sung lyrics. (The group also composed a few originals based on Thai and Lao song styles.) The obvious comparison is to Dengue Fever, the L.A.-based outfit that features a female Cambodian pop star singing with L.A. hipsters. But whereas that act attempts to re-create Cambodian numbers from the '60s and '70s, Neung Phak tries something trickier -- taking the syrupy, computer-driven Asian-pop originals and improving them via live instrumentation. On "Tui Tui Tui" Hayes lays bubbly, mellifluous vocals over burping horn parts and chittering drums, while on "Cheer" the band applies whirling '80s-style keyboards and bouncy reggae rhythms to the insistent melody. This is pop music at its most ravenous and delightful: For "Ko Meuy De Ka," Neung Phak makes an "Oh Mickey"-style drumbeat, house-y keyboards, and a Latin percussion break all sound like they originated from Southeast Asia.

But this wouldn't be a Mono Pause offshoot without some sonic skulduggery. Witness the 12-minute "Morlam Pee Bah," featuring guest vocals from Alan Bishop of longtime ethnomusicfuckallogists Sun City Girls. Inspired by popular Thai stage shows, the song begins with a man and woman arguing viciously, before morphing into a crazed mélange of keyboard blurts, surfy guitar riffs, and cowbell bashes. Even a track this out-there feels authentic: You can imagine someone in Bangkok picking up a cassette and thinking he's discovered the weirdest, greatest Thai band ever.

About The Author

Dan Strachota


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