BackArts & Culture » Music & Art » Year in Review: Saigoneer's 30 Picks for Best Vietnamese Music of 2021

Year in Review: Saigoneer's 30 Picks for Best Vietnamese Music of 2021

Despite the drab outlook enveloping the entertainment industry for most of 2021, this year saw a boom in new faces across genres and the release of many pandemic albums.

I dearly miss a time when our year-end reviews can purely concentrate on the craft instead of discussing how much the ramifications of a global disaster have trickled down into daily life, but 2021 wasn’t a year for that, yet. Being so dependent on crowded events and just people simply celebrating without a care, Vietnam’s music scene has suffered major setbacks during the year’s extended bouts of lockdown. While musicians can resort to doing at-home sessions and make new music, the livelihood of dancers, stage technicians, event planners, and other staff, has suffered at the hand of public health restrictions.

Still, from a fan’s perspective, it was a year of fruitful listening and discovering as many long-term indie names and freshman bands presented full-length albums for our sonic pleasures such as Hiimhii, The Cassette, Raditori, Bluemato, etc. Genre-wise, rap/hip-hop continues to dominate new records following the monumental success of King of Rap and Rap Việt, but city pop has shown up in several singles and separate album tracks from Thịnh Suy and Pay, Pixel Neko, tú tú, and Minh Tốc & Lam.

Here are Saigoneer's 30 picks for this year's best music. Visit our Spotify playlist here or at the end of the feature to listen to all of them.

#30 Cơm Tấm — Boijeon | Single

This song — if you can classify it as that — is basically just my thought process during the moments between waking up and waiting for the cơm tấm stall in my hẻm to open. I honestly have no idea what the hell this is, but it’s dope so here it is at #30.

#29 Vì Em Cô Đơn — Lemese | Single

‘Vì Em Cô Đơn’ is by all measures a radio-friendly pop track that’s rather safe in both lyrics and delivery. What I find surprisingly delightful about it is how nostalgic it feels. The chorus, the addition of a male voice, and the catchy beat all bring to mind K-drama soundtracks from the 2000s. I appreciate it more for not adding a gratuitous rap verse.

#28 Phú Quý Bò Viên (8ight) — Anh Phan, Tùng Chùa, Larria | Single

There are three things that make ‘Phú Quý Bò Viên’ work: the beat, Tùng Chùa, and the wonderfully weird accompanying music video. Tùng Chùa, the king of nhạc chế and underground icon, brings hilarious bolero melodrama to the track. His unbridled cussing, another distinctive feature, meshes seamlessly with the irreverent hip-hop vibe. Unfortunately, the rap is the weakest part of the song, with incoherent Vietnamese and intelligible English. On a related note, I feel compelled to point out that 2021 hasn’t been kind to Tùng Chùa, whose diabetes has taken a toll on his health, leading to amputation. We wish him lots of health and would like to dedicate #28 to him.

#27 Triển Lãm Giảng Võ — Chú Cá Lơ | Single

It’s hard to imagine one ever harboring enough affection for a government convention center to write an ode to it, but the dudes behind Chú Cá Lơ are not just anyone. In 2016, Hanoi dismantled the storied Giảng Võ Convention Center to make room for a new development project. That’s all to the story, which Chú Cá Lơ turned into a feverishly catchy rock and roll song that’s caused me to subconsciously hum “triển lãm Giảng Võ” for the past months.

#26 Trái Giờ — Hoàng Bảo | Single

Not many listeners may know who Hoàng Bảo is, but it’s likely that they’ve heard a song that he arranged, like travel YouTuber Khoai Lang Thang’s ‘Đợi Nụ Cười Em.’ ‘Trái Giờ’ is Bảo’s first official release as a solo singer/songwriter, a soulful track depicting a heartbreaking story of two people who have a strong connection, but are divided by treacherous time zones.

#25 Khi Em Lớn — Orange, Hoàng Dũng | Single

I am not shy to admit that this song touches my emotions. Its subject matter is not new: a reminder from a supposedly more mature Orange to a younger one, warning of the chancers and cheats of adulthood. When done appropriately with the right amount of sentimentality, even the oldest of teachings can become memorable. ‘Khi Em Lớn’ presents an uncharacteristically restrained Orange, accompanied by acoustic guitar in the absence of electronic gimmicks and lovelorn longing. It’s a welcome change.

#24 Tiny Love — Thịnh Suy | Tiny Things — EP

“Tiny Things” marks an important milestone for Thịnh Suy: it was the first EP that he produced after leaving the previous management company, so it’s the freest and most Thịnh Suy work he’s created so far. It’s also a pandemic record, whose every element was made at home. Does it feel homemade? Yes, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. All four tracks are simple, light, and airy like a breath in the Đà Lạt morning.

#23 Intimate (Acoustic) — MINH, Trung Bao | Mixtape — EP

If one is not paying close attention, it might seem that 'Intimate' is not living up to its acoustic promise, but it might come as a surprise that, apart from the guitar, every other sound in the track is created by beatboxer Trung Bao. As usual, MINH’s talent for lyric crafting shows through narrative-driven verses and a catchy chorus. Floating alongside minimal instrumentation, MINH makes singing seem effortless across the EP’s six tracks, which goes down as smooth as butter.

Read our interview with MINH here.

#22 I Just Wanna Know — Wren Evans | Single

Wren Evans is the stage name of 20-year-old Lê Phan from Hanoi, a “gap year” experiment that Wren admitted wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been because of the pandemic. After graduating from high school, it was in the plans for him to attend college overseas, but it didn’t work out and he’s taking time to "live a bit" and pursue music. Right from the get-go, it’s very apparent that Wren’s language fluency and musicality would fit right in with the Top 40s of any international market. With ample boyish charm and charisma, Wren is made for pop — à la ‘Hello, Anxiety’-era Phum. Supported by the right team and well-produced hits like ‘I Just Wanna Know’ and ‘Thích Em Hơi Nhiều,’ there’s no doubt that he will go far.

#21 Khi Em Xa Tôi — Chấm Trắng | Single

Established in 2019, Chấm Trắng is a four-member group from Hanoi who got their start in a high school music club where they met. This year, Chấm Trắng managed to sit down together and finish recording their first album “...” before most of the members had to fly off to study abroad. If the lead single ‘Thiên Đàng’ is an ominous play on the concept of heaven, ‘Khi Em Xa Tôi’ is a full-throated, bombastic declaration of lovesick yearning, perhaps in part inspired by the separation the band had to endure when they scattered to four corners of the world.

#20 Chưa Ra Đời — Hiimhii | Chưa Ra Đời — Album

Hiimhii is the stage name of Hanoi-based indie singer Hoàng Hải, who independently produced his debut album thanks to financial support from the community. The more I listen, the more it becomes clear that "Chưa Ra Đời" by Hiimhii is the perfect album for a power outage. The crisp pickings of guitar and ukulele awash the record, with a dash of piano and ambient noises thrown in to spice up the soporific intimacy. With one’s eyes closed, the soundscape could pass for an unplugged night at a cozy cafe, when the clinking of cups, guitar imperfections, a resident cat’s sheepish purring, and ad-libbed conversations are as much a part of the music as Hiimhii’s mellow voice.

Read our interview with Hiimhii here.

#19 Có Cơn Mưa Rào Đi Qua Dòng Sông — Châu Nhi | Single

‘Có Cơn Mưa Rào Đi Qua Dòng Sông’ is a gorgeous song, and I’m not using the word as a meaningless exclamation, but because it’s a complex, emotionally enthralling track that exemplifies how music can be art. The single is the first release of Châu Nhi and HUMM, a collective she formed with a few friends, not as a band by their admission, but as a group of music lovers who enjoy jamming together. Apart from Nhi’s angelic voice, the song is a confluence of beatboxing, violin, flute, piano and electric guitar — each plays an important piece in emulating the wistful sadness of unrequited love between a river and a summer shower.

#18 Giữa Đại Lộ Đông Tây — Uyên Linh | Single

In 2010, Uyên Linh surpassed Văn Mai Hương to win her Vietnam Idol season, one of the reality TV show’s most successful cycles to date. At the time, Linh wasn’t a technical singer, but everybody knew something special was born. In the past decade, she’s proven to be an extraordinary chartreuse with taste and finely tuned musical sensibilities. There’s an air of sophistication to the way Linh does music, and ‘Giữa Đại Lộ Đông Tây’ is a neat example showing just that. The song is a fusion of ballad and jazz, with some rock elements sprinkled in to spice things up. From the lyrics to the touch of lounge jazz, the track paints a cinematic reel of a couple professing their love for one another, staying firmly rooted in the moment and its poetic surroundings. It’s romantic, warm, wholesome, elegant — one of Linh’s best works since “Portrait.”

#17 Chuyến Tàu Xanh — Bluemato | Gió Thổi Mạnh — Album

If the Vietnam Railways Corporation was wise, they would hire Bluemato to sing ‘Chuyến Tàu Xanh’ for all their promotional materials, because I can’t stop thinking about those uniquely blue trains on the North-South Railway while listening. It’s probably because the title and lyrics directly reference a blue train, but also because the song embodies a youthful excitement that only comes with embarking on a trip to an unknown place. And nobody writes songs about youth — and all the ups and downs associated with it — like Bluemato. “Gió Thổi Mạnh” is not a particularly cheerful album; it’s filled with ennui, contemplation, and movement. So it will take you places, though there will be some deep rumination involved along the way.

Read our review of "Gió Thổi Mạnh" here.

#16 20-40 — Phương Tâm | Magical Nights: Saigon Surf, Twist & Soul — Album

If you ever feel bogged down by the pressures of living in a technology-driven society, look no further than "Magical Nights," a new compilation album of songs by 1960s starlet Phương Tâm, to remind you of the miracles our interconnected world can bring. Once upon a time, Tâm was among the hottest names in Saigon’s nightlife, but she emigrated to the US, built a family, and gradually left that glorious past behind. Enter Hannah Hà, Tâm’s daughter who chanced upon some of Tâm’s old recordings on the internet and was determined to unfurl the mystery of her past life. The journey of discovery culminated in "Magical Nights," a collection of Tâm’s best songs recorded in the 1960s, each painstakingly restored, patched together, and then digitized by a group of passionate producers living across continents — all during the pandemic.

Read the full story behind the making of the album here.

#15 Mị Châu — Mủn Gỗ | Trở Về Miền Ký Ức — EP

Not much is known about Mủn Gỗ, one of the youngest bands in this year’s list, hailing from the capital. After all, they unveiled the debut EP “Trở Về Miền Ký Ức” just 10 days ago, but have proven to be a force to be reckoned with. ‘Mị Châu’ has a clear concept inspired by Mị Châu, the daughter of An Dương Vương, the monarch of Âu Lạc. She was blamed for the downfall of the entire kingdom after unknowingly leaking national security intelligence to her husband, the prince of a rival kingdom. The song is an intense exploration of the emotions of Mị Châu and her painful fate as a downtrodden woman blinded by love.

#14 Trạng Nguyên — Thamz | Kiếp Hát Rong — Album

In the weeks of working on this year-end roundup, one thing that still bugs me to this day is I haven’t managed to figure out the original source of the sample in the opening of ‘Trạng Nguyên.’ This unsolved puzzle, however, doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of Thamz’s album “Kiếp Hát Rong,” a bold collection of biting social commentary, playful experimentation, and foul-mouthed sassiness. ‘Kinh Nghiệm Đầu Tư’ parodies a radio show discussing investment tips while ‘Trạng Nguyên’ borrows tropes from folk performances to satirize the concept of face, nepotism, and corruption among the elites. Incredible flow, cutting lyrics, and clever rhymes make ‘Trạng Nguyên’ a catchy high point of “Kiếp Hát Rong.”

#13 Có Lẽ Em Đã Quá Khờ — Kim Chi Sun | Single

Can you believe that this bop only has over 8,000 views on YouTube? It’s exactly a year since Kim Chi Sun released the delicious R&B track, though I’m including it in this year’s list as it came out after our 2020 review was written. 2021 has been a transformative year for Kim. When we met her through the debut EP “M Good,” Kim Chi Sun’s musical persona encapsulated the enigma of the night. The EP has a strong R&B style, sharing sultry beats in between breathy lyric delivery. A year spent at home in lockdown granted her new life perspectives and the music naturally followed suit — in the form of "Still Good," a reimagining of "M Good," albeit brighter, more optimistic, and filled with sunlight. No matter which genre Kim sets her eyes on, be it the urban beats of R&B or gleeful city pop, her music feels refreshingly in-the-moment. Of course, we have her creative and life partner CHARLES to thank for that as well.

Read our interview with Kim Chi Sun and CHARLES. here.

#12 Vô Hình — Raditori | Những Con Người — Album

Raditori — not to be confused with radiatori, which is a type of pasta — is one of the freshest rock groups hailing from Saigon. What immediately stands out about the quartet’s personality is their quirky YouTube page, which hosts a number of live sessions the band did in rather random locations: there’s ‘Như Màn Mưa’ (ngập), which took place in a flooded alley; ‘Khờ’ in Thủ Thiêm, surrounded by kites; and ‘Khung Cửa Biếc’ on a roof. This charming sense of humor, however, doesn’t translate into their latest album “Những Con Người,” a considerable effort to showcase how serious Raditori is in making their mark in the rock scene, as exemplified by ‘Vô Hình,’ an existential lament over the state of being human.

Read our interview with Raditori here.

#11 Yên — Mỹ Anh | Single

2021 was the year of Mỹ Anh, even though it was just the second year of her music career. A stellar representation of generation Z artists, Mỹ Anh quickly left behind the label “daughter of Mỹ Linh,” and built a solid image as a wildly inventive and assured musical prodigy. Almost all of her releases this year, such as the official singles ‘Pillars’ and ‘Yên’ and a cover of Kimmese’s ‘Real Love,’ were successful commercially and critically — the discotheque version of ‘Real Love,’ in particular, is the musical equivalent of crack cocaine. ‘Yên’ is a triumph in production, from the way every single syllable is truncated and enunciated to the layers upon layers of harmonies in the chorus, all building up into a crashing wave of sonic satisfaction.

Read our interview with Mỹ Anh here.

#10 Chim Khôn Đậu Nóc Nhà Quan — Quyền Thiện Đắc, Hoàng Xuân Tùng | Jazz Duyên — Album

Of the very close-knit cadre of saxophonists in Vietnam, Trần Mạnh Tuấn and Quyền Văn Minh are among the most well-known names, having attained legendary status as the nation’s top musicians. And in a fortunate twist of fate, both have children who have followed in their fathers’ footsteps — An Trần and Quyền Thiện Đắc. “Jazz Duyên” is the result of Đắc’s two years of work in collaboration with guitarist Hoàng Xuân Tùng, a jazz interpretation of classic quan họ melodies, in addition to four new compositions. As a fully instrumental record, it’s certainly a niche that might not attract members of the general populace. Those familiar with quan họ might recognize the tune of ‘Chim Khôn Đậu Nóc Nhà Quan’ right away, but there’s a spontaneity that stays refreshing after every listen.

#09 Vùng Đất Linh Hồn — The Cassette | Rừng Đom Đóm — Album

Of all the new bands that debuted last year, to me, The Cassette was the most impressive with the achingly wistful ‘Nếu Ngày Mai Tôi Không Trở Về.’ It immediately plunges into the chorus — “If I don’t return tomorrow, please don’t wait anymore” — hitting us in the face with incredibly nostalgic guitar licks that evoke J-rock and “Chương II”-era Cá Hồi Hoang. Had I been listening to the album on my walkman, the rewind button would have shattered due to aggressive replaying. A rare musical group from Đà Nẵng, The Cassette wouldn’t feel out of place in the 2000s, their apt name agrees. Debut album “Rừng Đom Đóm” does stay on-brand, and some tracks are excellent, such as their debut single and ‘Vùng Đất Linh Hồn.’ As a whole, it’s rather one-note, but still is a solid alternative rock record that pairs fantastically well with long bus rides and night road trips. And yes, it’s available on cassettes too.

#08 Beautiful — CHARLES. | Sweet N Sour — EP

We have spoken at length a few months ago of how much we enjoy ‘Lòng Vòng Sài Gòn’ by Dick and CHARLES, but it’s much to my delight that his EP “Sweet N Sour” is even a tighter release than ‘Lòng Vòng Sài Gòn.’ The extended play is one of the year’s best R&B records, as CHARLES shows that he can glide smoothly between Vietnamese and English, high notes and spoken-word whispers. ‘Beautiful’ and ‘2:17am’ are the EP high points that deserve multiple replays.

#07 Hmm.. — Vũ Thanh Vân | After Party — EP

In the latest EP “After Party,” Vũ Thanh Vân returns to form as a name to watch when it comes to ambient pop. Vân has always favored a slower tempo and minimalist arrangements that create a mood instead of enticing one to dance. Her 2019 single ‘Chiện Tình’ was a standout track thanks to the R&B beat that keeps our interest, though unfortunately, subsequent releases tend to err on the slow side, until “After Party.” The new EP retains the atmospheric base that Vân is known for, though this time each track is elevated thanks to itsnk’s sharp production. ‘Hmm..’ is a shining example of effective pacing. Deliberate, irregular pauses truncate the beat in between Vân’s vocals, leaving us wanting more after every line. All five tracks are more uptempo than previous singles, a refreshing change that not only makes them extremely danceable, but also more memorable.

Read our interview with Vũ Thanh Vân here.

#06 Đốt — Ngọt | Single

For a song with such a diabolical cover, ‘Đốt’ seems comically mellow at first listen, until you pay close attention to the lyrics and the Fire Nation attacks. Ngọt stays faithful to the theme of fire with lines like “On the last night, I got a match, without saying a word / You got the gasoline / On the last night, I burnt to a crisp / You stood and watched.” All of these, of course, take place on a languid psychedelic rock background — it’s a pyromaniac’s equivalent of beats to relax/study to.

#05 Ngày Lại Ngày — Suboi | No Nê — Album

Over the past years, there is a special type of annual occasion that I look forward to every season: when Suboi releases a new music video. I’ve followed Suboi’s music career on and off since I illegally downloaded her album “Walk” as a high school student. Suboi’s music has always been cool, in a very Saigon way — sans bravado, straight-forward, and honest — but add in the wealth of creative resources her team can drum up now from the industry’s top-tier names, every time a new Suboi track drops, you know that the visual will be lit.

“No Nê” is the distillation of three years’ worth of releases, including previous hits like ‘N-Sao?’ and ‘Cho Không,’ and a few new songs. To be truthful, it was slightly disappointing to learn that half of the album consists of works we’ve heard before, even though objectively there isn’t a bad track in the album. ‘Best Friend’ and ‘Ngày Lại Ngày’ are the best of the new additions, with the latter sampling the “bánh mì Sài Gòn, một ngàn một ổ” street call and slowing it down to a menacing moan. The bridge is the most interesting part as she employs a purposefully nasal way of delivery that rounds out the song’s sinister overtone.

#04 Con Mèo Béo — Thành Đồng | Trong Im Ở Lặng — EP

The entire EP “Trong Im Ở Lặng” by Thành Đồng deserves its place as one of the best collection of songs of the year, but I will reveal that ‘Con Mèo Béo’ was selected as the best track because of…cat. The name Thành Đồng might be a newcomer in the music scene, but industry insiders might know him as the director behind a number of music videos for Đen, Vũ, Lê Cát Trọng Lý, etc. Vũ was even able to convince Đồng to appear in the MV for 'Anh Đếch Cần Gì Nhiều Ngoài Em.'

Parts of the EP was written in the form of music class homework when he participated in Lý’s art camp, which also resulted in him contributing one duet in Lý’s album. The summer camp is meant to be more a productive and creatively stimulating vacation than a workshop, but participants from all backgrounds can partake in introductory classes in pottery, songwriting, painting, sustainable practices, and more. I haven’t heard any firsthand account, but if “Trong Im Ở Lặng” is what it managed to produce, perhaps more people should join.

The EP has only four songs, including one duet with Khuê, another camper he met during their stay. Lý’s influence lingers across the tracks, not in a copycat manner, but in the way that kindred friends resemble one another. The songs each sound like a memory shard capturing a scene, complete with weather patterns, the swaying of plants, and the very specific handful of emotions Đồng was feeling at the time he wrote it. Đồng has a pleasant timbre to his voice, a maturity that contrasts perfectly with the dreamy, delicate quality of Khuê’s voice in ‘Ngày Thảnh Thơi.’ It’s not a very technical EP in both composition and recording, but, like most of Lý’s discography, it excels in emoting and imbuing a certain poetic je ne sais quoi that soothes the soul.

#03 Con Chim Sâu — Kiên | Không Qua Loa 8 — Album

Kiên belongs to a crop of Hanoian indie musicians who grew up alongside fans through cafe live sessions in the lesser-known but close-knit SoundCloud community. When Kiên announced last year that he would part ways with his SoundCloud, it felt like a coming-of-age declaration. Earlier this year, Kiên released his debut album and proved to everyone that there’s an assertive musical powerhouse behind those seemingly childish lyrics. In a musical landscape where romance has put its soapy mark on the majority of compositions, Kiên rises above the hoi polloi with a uniquely Kiên take on writing — “children’s music for adults,” as he self-describes. “Không Qua Loa 8” showcases his range as a lyricist, tackling storytelling from a number of perspectives: as a son writing to his mother in ‘Con Giời,’ as himself in an observational diary entry (‘Quán Cơm Ngày Mưa’), or as an omniscient narrator in the didactic fable of ‘Con Chim Sâu.’

‘Con Chim Sâu’ is not a new composition; one can come across fan-cams of Kiên performing it live all over YouTube, but the album version has taken the simple man-versus-nature tale to new heights thanks to some creative choices in its musical arrangement. In the story, an old farmer kills a flowerpecker to make porridge, but on his way home, the bird is stolen by a village mandarin, and he sits alone in anguish. The music begins with simple acoustic guitar but amps up the drama with theatrical percussion at the climax. Listening to ‘Con Chim Sâu’ feels like watching a Tom & Jerry cartoon during its best eras, as Kiên employs traditional sounds and instruments from folk genres like tuồng and chèo to build the cinematic ambiance, rhythm and intensity. While the song isn’t the most catchy and relatable in the album, its writing and music are most emblematic of what defines Kiên’s music: carefree, but not careless.

Read our interview with Kiên here.

#02 Những Ngày Nắng Đẹp — Minh Tốc & Lam | Những Ngày Nắng Đẹp — Album

The 1960s had Sonny & Cher, and in 2021, we are blessed to have Minh Tốc & Lam as our indie power couple, whose first album together “Những Ngày Nắng Đẹp” is sure to bring a little pizzazz to our days for years to come. A guitarist and songwriter by trade, Minh Tốc admitted that it’s been his dream to create his own album for a long time, even though he doesn’t sing. Lam, who used to perform at bars in Hanoi, came into the picture as an important step towards making the dream a reality, and one thing led to another, Minh Tốc & Lam the duo became Minh Tốc & Lam the couple.

As the first release of the duo from Hanoi, the record is a diverse flirtation with nearly every genre: from city pop, jazz, rock, blues to ballad, but every time Minh Tốc & Lam experiments in a track, they’re always dead serious in polishing the track to the best it can be. Thus, even though it’s hard to put a unifying theme to the album, the songs all shared a commonality — they are crafted with precision. Lam’s voice, although not a technical powerhouse, is malleable as silk as it shape-shifts with every track. It can amp up the intensity for the rock-tastic ‘Doctor Funk,’ but Lam’s best moments are in cheerful tracks like ‘Những Ngày Nắng Đẹp’ where a cheekiness is required. If I have to sum up “Những Ngày Nắng Đẹp” in one word, it would be “classy.” This is the album to be played in the background of an elegant restaurant as couples in their Saturday best relish dainty dishes.

#01 Lý Ngựa Ô (Ride the Darkness) — Dzung | Dzanca — Album

I met Dzung for the first time in a now-defunct Highlands Coffee to talk about his EP “Tình Tính Tang.” He arrived in a nearly all-black outfit, spotting long hair and a very impressive tattoo sleeve of the solar system on his right arm — it was as if Dzung was born into the persona of a musician. Nonetheless, whatever predilections one might have of a rocker don’t apply to him, because he’s one of the most humble, enthusiastic, and genuinely down-to-earth artists I’ve come across. My knowledge on progressive metal was limited, and he patiently went through the layers and philosophies behind the EP and his creative process. A celebration of traditional melodies, “Tình Tính Tang” was meant to be the first piece of a trilogy, which eventually became “Dzanca” — Dzung’s magnum opus and our pick for best music of 2021.

“Dzanca” is a portmanteau of Dzung and “dân ca,” the myriad of folksy songs all of us grow up with but rarely pay much attention to. Not Dzung. He resolutely dismantled, dissected, rearranged, polished, seasoned, and recombined these pastoral ditties into a multi-faceted acoustic landscape. The album name might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a perfect summary of its essence: this is dân ca, but Dzung-style. As a progressive metal guitarist, he’s more keenly aware than most musicians of the crucial role of instrumentation in making music, so the decision to forgo lyrics altogether brought the project to new heights. For once, we as listeners are forced to sit down and brace our auditory and mental faculties for wordless storytelling. There isn’t a single spoken word in all of the album, but with every ebb and flow of the song, we can sense a narrative. In 'Lý Ngựa Ô,' the sound of galloping hooves exist in the hurried licks of the electric guitar, and when that rush winds down to a trot, the song lulls into a dreamy, almost jazzy post-climax. “Dzanca” is an outstanding representation of contemporary Vietnamese music that’s in itself both an album and a work of sound art.

Read our interview with Dzung here.

Thank you for listening along with us in 2021 and for reading all the way here. Happy new year and happy listening!

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