BAND OF THE WEEK: XUA

16 Sep

Mekong Moon,” the stunning, magical and magically addictive debut album from Xua, is preceded by a musical question or two, as asked by the album’s creator, one Joshua Lee Vineyard, notably also a member of Portland, Oregon’s “Bardo”-blasting Swahili (a band that itself was a recent victim of “Band of the Week” honors). Vineyard asks …

“What would a future world sound like if eastern culture emerged as the world’s dominating power? What unheard radio transmissions would emerge?”

They’re questions that are not quite answerable, but neither are they exactly rhetorical. Yet if “Mekong Moon” can be heard as Vineyard’s attempt at earnestly responding to his own questions and hearing the answers in what was previously unheard, we can’t be alone in hearing a future world that sounds beautiful, wide-awake and endlessly expansive, a transmission far outside the limits of genre or geography – and easily one of the most fully engrossing albums of this (or any other) year.

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Thematically, the origin of “Mekong Moon” lies in Vineyard’s travels throughout Southeast Asia, while sonically, the album speaks in the language of 70s synth techniques, perhaps not krautrock in any defined sense, but certainly not not-kosmische. As a point of reference, “Mekong Moon” pairs favorably with “Musik Von Harmonia,” the Harmonia debut from 1974 – Xua songs like “Man Teiv Ghosts” and “Snow Globe” can be heard as distant cousins to Harmonia’s “Watussi” and “Dino.” But where Harmonia was somewhat of a supergroup, Xua’s is a decidedly solitary journey – no group, but super nonetheless.

“Mekong Moon” begins with the title track, field-recorded chanting merging with ominous voiceover (which we no doubt erroneously hear as the Vietnamese equivalent to “stand clear of the closing doors, please”), before stepping cinematically into an all-enveloping blanket of sound, serpentine and seductive. The beauty on display in the opening minutes of “Mekong Moon” is positively overwhelming to our ears, a cascading wave of sound, pulsing as vibrantly, as vividly as the multi-hued lunar landscape that graces the album’s cover.

If the opening track threatens an album of dreamy soundscapes that float gently into the ether without regard for gravity – and this is perhaps the most beautiful threat that we can imagine – the simple-yet-insistent beat of “Man Tiev Ghosts” brings our moonlight ride closer to the realm of terra-firma. At the point of first listen, it becomes clear that “Mekong Moon” has the potential to be far more than just a collection of far-out sounds, but to coalesce into the form of an album with structure and, dare we say, dignity. By the time we’re two minutes in to the seven minutes of “Royal Nam Khan,” that potential has found full-flower in Xua’s majestic sounds.

As a whole, “Mekong Moon” sounds completely and utterly alive, and while it would be a stretch to say it ever attempts humor, there exists is these songs a certain wide-eyed wonderment that easily, effortlessly gives birth to smiles. We would suggest that “Mekong Moon” is neither “heavy” nor particularly “light.” Rather, it is both heavy and light, allowing room for infinite varieties of distinction, powered by a non-differentiation between “heavy” and “light.”

Still, despite repeat playings of “Mekong Moon” that number well in to double-digits, we would deny a grasp on anything like expertise (or even anything beyond a rudimentary understanding) on topics such as Southeast Asia and 70s synth techniques, nor the merging of the two. All we can do is react to the result. For Xua’s “Mekong Moon,” that result is an album that sounds perfectly perfumed by both reality and fantasy, magnificently manifested in now-heard radio transmissions delivered by Vineyard’s active, agile imagination.

“Mekong Moon” by Xua is available now from Debacle Records.

“Treasury of the true Dharma-eye” – by Eihei Dogen

In the heart of the night,

The moonlight framing

A small boat drifting,

Tossed not by the waves

Nor swayed by the breeze.

“The image of illumination by the moon has connotations from the poetic tradition, in which it represents an object of longing and the source of comfort in times of turmoil and grief, as well as Buddhist implications as the symbol of the universal manifestations of the compassion and wisdom of Buddha-nature. The moon deepens the meaning of the resolute detachment of the casting off of the boat. The boat is cut off from the harbor, as perhaps Dōgen felt isolated during his trip to the Five Mountains Rinzai center. But because the boat falls within the encompassment of the moon’s glow, it is not lost but protected by the compassionate Buddha‐nature. Yet in contrast to the moon, the boat is not totally aloof from the world of variability; it remains involved, at once aimless in its solitude and purposeful in its disciplined response to change. The single phenomenon of the drifting boat shares the detached perspective and illuminative remoteness of the moonlight, and partakes of the world into which it has been cast out, yet has learned to cast off perpetually.” – Steven Heine, “The Zen Poetry of Dogen: Verses from the Mountain of Eternal Peace

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