Kia Sao ກ້ຽວສາວ
Between 1964 and 1973, the United States dropped 260 million cluster bombs on the Southeast Asian nation of Laos. Carried out during the Vietnam War as part of a covert effort to back the Royal Lao Government in their suppression of the communist Pathet Lao movement, these attacks would constitute the most bombs dropped on a single country in recorded history, outnumbering all the bombs dropped in the entirety of World War II — all onto a nation the size of Utah. Now, half a century later, less than 1% of the explosives remaining throughout the country have actually been detonated, and dozens (if not hundreds) of casualties still occur from these hidden explosives with each passing year.
David Somphrachanh Vilayleck was born to Laotian immigrants who escaped the country during the tail end of this conflict. His music as AYANKOKO runs the gamut between psychedelic jazz fusion, minimal harsh noise, bass-driven techno, and scattered electronic collage work, mixing it all in with a dedication to preserving the traditional music of his Laotian heritage. Scrolling through his SoundCloud and Bandcamp pages reveals an artist whose style is incredibly hard to pin down, which is where the Chinabot-curated Kia Sao ກ້ຽວສາວ steps in. Gathering some of AYANKOKO’s choicest cuts from over the years (as well as gifting us with a number of new songs), Kia Sao ກ້ຽວສາວ is an exhilarating scramble of bouncing beats and silly-string melodies that does a million things at once, even if its playful facade hides deeper wounds beneath the surface.
Within its first minutes, Kia Sao ກ້ຽວສາວ springs into action, diving between ear-needling synth frequencies (“Kia Sao”), static-covered drum & bass (“South East II”), and flailing electro-psych that sounds like Led Zeppelin trying to wrangle their way around a traditional molam melody (“Molam 9”). Vilayleck diverges wildly from whatever came before with each passing track, briefly wading through moments of schizoid tonal abstraction before plunging straight into entrancing beats anchored by deep, rumbling bass. The nearly 11-minute “Downsides” rides along on an absolutely crushing low end, carried throughout by ringing bells and a shifting mélange of glitched-out rhythms; listening to it is like being inside of a club that’s being swallowed up by an active whirlpool. That Vilayleck manages to tackle these more movement-focused sounds as convincingly as his comparatively esoteric experiments is impressive, lending an almost celebratory feel as it zip-zaps between one colorful sound after another.
But that sense of celebration remains tainted by the history that led to it. The promotion for this album has come with regular reminders of the bombs still littered throughout Laos and the diaspora of which Vilayleck’s music comes as a direct result. Kia Sao ກ້ຽວສາວ translates to “holding your daughter on your back,” and in listening to the mourning, circular guitar lines of “Chinh Sae” or the artificial strings that loop throughout “Tebu Sauyun,” one can hear the sound of history circling back unto itself, as Vilayleck brings these folk melodies into a frenzied, modernized context. Its neon-hued glow feels like both a gesture of thanks to his parents for preserving his own future and a horrifying reaction at the chaos of a world where such atrocities can be carried out on an entire people, only to be swept under the rug for decades.
Listening to Kia Sao ກ້ຽວສາວ, it’s easy to just take its scatterbrained electronic mayhem at face value and revel in Vilayleck’s endlessly spiraling melodies and floor-rattling rhythms; but such distraction also feels tantamount to what AYANKOKO attempts to expose here. Kia Sao ກ້ຽວສາວ’s avant-garde party of sped-up signal jamming and multi-colored noise sits atop a past whose horrors live on to this very day, making Kia Sao ກ້ຽວສາວ an incredibly contemporary illustration of what it is to be alive in our current age. As thrilling as it is to take in such a futuristic fusion of styles from all over the globe, AYANKOKO asks how we arrived at such a cacophonous, hypnotizing intersection of sound and whispers of the scars we’ve left in our wake.