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Khun Narin
Khun Narin's Electric Phin Band Dustin Krcatovich , September 29th, 2014 15:23

The term "psychedelic" and its concomitant ideas have been soundly abused and perverted many times over since Humphry Osmond's initial coinage in 1957. Psychedelic literally means "mind-revealing", but in modern parlance has become synonymous with "weird" or "druggy", or really "anything with heavy reverb". At this stage in the game, everyone from Naomi Punk to Kanye West has been characterised, at one time or another, as making psychedelic music.

This begs the question, then: are we really so prone to psychic revelation that our collective third eye is pried open by every musical outfit that sounds like they may have, at one time, tried LSD? Is some goon playing guitar through a vintage Leslie speaker enough impetus to see into infinity? Can a Holy Grail pedal and some squiggly surrealistic imagery finally crush the tyranny of linear time?

Obviously, the answer is no. Our times are not extraordinarily psychedelic, nor is the music currently being characterised as such. This is simply a matter of limited, and largely inaccurate, blogger vocabulary.

Which brings us to the eponymous debut of Khun Marin's Electric Phin Band, graciously brought to us by Los Angeles indie rock label Innovative Leisure. The group, recorded by one Josh Marcy outside a Buddhist temple in the Phetchabun Province of Northern Thailand, combines the sounds of a handmade electric phin (basically a kind of lute) with an ample rhythm section of marching drums. It's a powerful sound; the music shares rock and roll's mother-heartbeat propulsion but largely eschews its structures, having much more to do with traditional Thai folk forms. The resulting music is raucous, deft, loud, and awesome.

One thing that I would contend that it is not, however, is psychedelic, at least not inherently. Khun Narin is a group that mostly plays backyard parties, parades, and the like; they run the phin through a series of cheap distortion pedals and an impressive jerry-rigged sound system, making for an imposing sound that wails over the drumline. Western culture gets into every nook and cranny of this poor planet, which means that searing extended covers of Cranberries songs worm their way into the Khun Narin repertoire, but they nonetheless remain essentially a traditional folk group. They are neither "psych" aficionados nor lysergically-inclined freakers. Despite this, the "p" word has been bandied cavalierly about in nearly every Western profile of the band (including a feature in the hip underground newspaper Newsweek).

Though undoubtedly well-intentioned, this characterisation smacks of confused imperialism or orientalism: psychedelia, as it is apparently understood in this case, is simply a subgenre of rock music. As such, characterising Khun Narin as psychedelic suggests that the band's primary function is that of an international funhouse mirror held to said subgenre, despite the fact that psychedelic rock was/is often a bastardisation of Eastern modalities and forms. In other words, 'Far Eastern Psychedelia' is about as dubious and/or redundant as 'Black Rock & Roll'.

I'm sure that the group, whose fluid membership performs this music as a fun weekend side gig, are enjoying their current attention from the West, even as they are bemused by it. I'll happily jump on the bandwagon by saying that this is a very cool record, surprisingly clear and powerful for a field recording, and well worth hearing.