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Naing Naing - Toothbrush Fever

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Artist: Naing Naing

Album: Toothbrush Fever

Label: (Re)Aktion

Review date: Feb. 26, 2006

Have you ever wanted your rainforest field recordings to be a little more…danceable? Welcome to yr new favorite music: Naing Naing is concrete pop, hummable tunes spliced together out of pitch-shifted bullfrog croaks and bee drones, tooth brushing and ice cubes.

Perhaps seeking refuge from decades spent in the French hardcore scene, Francois L’Homer, the guitarist for Heimatlos and Tear of a Doll, relocated permanently to Thailand. Under the Burmese name “Naing Naing” (pronounced “Nine Nine”), he makes forays to Burma to record his beloved bullfrogs and cicadas. Toothbrush Music is more or less L’Homer’s first release under the Naing Naing name, and while he is French and it was released by (Re)Aktion, a French label, the project carries the same unknowable mystery of everything that makes its way West out of Southeast Asia. In this era, Burma is one of the only places left where Americans (at least) really aren’t allowed to go, and contemporary Burmese recordings are rare on these shores. Thus Toothbrush Fever feels alien despite its semi-Western origins.

Naing Naing makes Burma seem fun, which is striking because the country’s political situation is among the worst in the world. Burma is ruled by a junta that has kept the country’s elected leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, more or less under house arrest for 15 years. One is tempted to speculate that only an outsider could make something so happy in a time and place of such conflict, but in Southeast Asia, great cultural beauty has always been created in times of political strife, when people drop out and turn inward.

L’Homer reps his style as “music without instrument,” and while he may not realize that others have made whole records out of the sounds of ping-pong, sex, and plastic surgery, his approach sounds fresh. The source material is the only experimental element of the songs, and it imbues them with bizarre joy. On “Wazo (Tori Monogatari),” chimps and birds sing with gusto, anthropomorphized like the talking dogs in Homeward Bound. Their beat is a faux steel drum, fashioned out of frogs. It’s the Medula of the animal kingdom.

“Brosse le Danse” is the breakout hit, a club dance number made entirely of the sounds of tooth brushing. Even the gargle and spit at the end are rhythmic. Other tracks feature Cerberus Shoal-style (human) vocals and cicadas “covering” Handel’s Sarabande; the liner notes are broken English mixed with bits of French, Burmese, and Japanese. Doctor Doolittle would be proud.

By Josie Clowney

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