Soundway Records had a busy year in 2010; issuing a slew of great world music comps. It appears however, that they saved the best for last with The Sound of Siam: Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz & Molam in Thailand 1964-1975. This set offers a stellar aural portrait of the biggest shakeup in Thailand’s musical history, as the country moved from its early 20th century percussive, instrumental, classical style (thai ka son) to the more vocal lak thung and molam, both of which centered on vocals, were shorter in length, were easily pressed on vinyl and sold in shops. Molam was played using traditional Thai instruments and originated in the northeastern region of the country; the phin (a stringed, lute-like instrument, the khaen, a pipe instrument made of bamboo, and the sor, a kind of bowed violin were all centerpieces. The lyrics were mostly sung in the Isan dialect that had much in common with the Laotian language. The former (lak thung) was an assembled hybrid whose sources could come from inside or outside, and did. When Thais began to move from rural eras to Bangkok, both styles exploded in a period of innovation and hybridization that swept the land and still rever berates today: rock, funk, Latin, Caribbean, African, blues, and jazz all played a role in the emerging popular styles of lak thung and molam. This set compiles 19 essential tracks that offer Western listeners an absolutely invigorating experience in encountering sounds that might be familiar individually, but when assembled together are something wholly other. While virtually everything here is worthwhile, there are some clear standouts. The psychedelic, Afro-influenced reggae of “Nom Samai Mai” by Saknatee Srichiangmai, with its chantlike vocals, wah-wah guitars, and Afro-beat horns is one. Likewise the hypnotic Ethiopian-styled piano and electric guitars in “Islabb Kam Tin” by Thapporn Petchubon, Noknoi Uraiporn, Thongtai Tin Isan with a molam, uses conversational and call-and-response vocals in a dreamy dialogue of goals, intentions, and dreams. “Soul Lam Plearn,” by the the Petch Phin Thong Band begins as a near-Malian desert blues, but is extended by a smattering of polyrhythms and and a butt-kicking bassline that makes it a nasty dance tune. The drinking song lak thung “Kai Tom Yum” by Kawaw Siang Thong resembles funky vanguard jazz, with its distorted upright bassline and vibes, clattering cymbals, and near-modal horns. Add to this incredible music Chris Menist's accessible yet scholarly liner essay and track annotations, and this is one of the finest compilations of any stripe in 2010.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek