Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective, “Degradation”

Saigon’s Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective implores listeners to listen to this new EP with headphones if they can. Whether or not you heed their wishes, the boldly avant-garde Degradation is an immersive, intimate sound-poem in three parts, far more vulnerable and just plain emotionally raw than most abstract music ever gets.

The opening salvo “Ikkikki” immediately sets up a poignant dichotomy between distant and immediate—a hushed, echoing cavern of tense, percussive chords floats like an invisible curtain above random electronic plunking and buzzing. There’s a sad, almost orchestral background to an indifferent cascade of glitches in the foreground. A cricket chirps loudly but in vain, its expressions rendered meaningless by its separation from the brooding swarm.

What’s more, the distance itself is the main axis through which the music moves, both sonically and emotionally: either we’re close to the subject matter, beaten over the head with vexation, or we’re drifting far away, contemplating its absence.

“Ripples” opts for a smooth progression rather than stark juxtaposition: a looping drone of fluttery bells and lowing electric thunderclouds grows in your rear-view mirror until it’s raining melancholy just above your head, a perfect storm of sound ready to swallow you whole.

From square wave to sine wave, we conclude with a synthesis in the saw-wave dynamics of “Degradation,” a lilting ambient jaunt crushed periodically by a stomping trash compactor. The cooing incantations of vocalists Lý Trang and Harvey Stauss emerge and float away like a chorus of angels as the waves of static crest and crash upon the shores.

Degradation is an experience you may never forget, if you can remember it in the first place. It could just as likely wither and disintegrate into the oblivion where we shelve our dreams.