Best Cross-Cultural Band - 2004
We live in the age of cross-cultural exploration, a time when musicians look across the globe for fresh sounds. Today, the hip hop scene is crawling with dancehall riddims and Bollywood samples, the sounds of urban America made exotic by international flavors. At the same time, tons of genres -- Mexican rock, French disco, German electro -- take their cues from foreign sources. Not surprisingly, the Bay Area houses one of the more intriguing cross-continental rock bands to date: Neung Phak (pronounced "noong pak"). A collaboration between Oakland noiseniks Mono Pause and singer Diana Hayes of Dynasty, the band performs covers of Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Taiwanese pop songs, as well as originals based on Thai and Lao song forms. In less skilled -- and sincere -- hands, this aural mash-up could sound like ironic paddy jumping. But Neung Phak's eponymous debut CD is a thing of sheer pleasure, a batch of bubbly, euphoric art-rock brimming with gooey keyboard hooks, chiming guitars, and thrilling call-and-response vocals. It's a tribute to the talent and inspiration of Neung Phak that its music sounds like it comes from all over the world -- everywhere except the United States, that is.