The Thai seaside town of Bang Saen sits around halfway between the currently smog-infested capital of Bangkok and the sexpat hellhole of Pattaya. It’s neither palm-fringed idyll nor overdeveloped tourist trap; just a mostly sleepy stretch of beach to where Bangkokians decamp at weekends to sit on the sand, eat seafood, drink beer and get some fresh air. It is, in short, an unlikely breeding ground for psychedelia (Thaichedelia?), but it has, somehow, given us the first great album of 2019 in the form of Strangers From the Far East by Khana Bierbood (it means ‘strange brew’).
Unlike most Thai bands, who seem happy to be big fish in a small musical pond, Khana have broader horizons – they’re currently touring Europe and this debut album was recorded in Tokyo with Go Kurosawa of Japanese space cadets Kikagaku Moyo (who are also KB’s label bosses). And having seen them live a few weeks ago and been won over within the first few seconds, I am happy to confirm that Strangers From the Far East is utterly delightful, a short, sharp collection of psych, surf rock and garage, yet indefinably Thai, with Thai lyrics and fluid guitar reminiscent of Isaan mo lam music.
Any worries that KB’s live sound may have been watered down are dispensed with from the off, as a voice announces (in Thai) “Khana Bierbood, ‘Rustic Song’, take one“, and the band immediately launch into a slow surf rock jam which suddenly goes all Dick Dale at the end. The somewhat more mellow ‘Starshine‘ begins with waves lapping on a beach and is a truly lovely thing. ‘Plankton Bloom‘, the Hammond-driven ‘Bad Trip‘ and ‘Dusty Lane‘ are thrilling, full-on garage rock. And the closing ‘Bangsaen Lady‘ is catchy, delicate psych-pop that wouldn’t sound out of place on The Coral‘s Invisible Invasion.
There is so much good music here in Thailand and it’s great to see a band looking beyond our borders and taking Thai sounds to the world outside. Let’s hope that, though they are unlikely to become megastars, they can at least do for Thailand what Dengue Fever have done for Cambodia.
Strangers From The Far East is out now on Guruguru Brain.