Best Tracks of 2017
by Thuc Dang from VNNTB


Ngọt “Một Ngày Không Mưa”

Besides having the most complete instrumentation off the band’s sophomore album, “Một Ngày Không Mưa” (A Day With No Rain) also shows Ngọt is getting sharper at dynamism. The fact that the song sounds completely different from the rest does not mean their signatures aren’t there.

Through each verse and chorus, “Một Ngày Không Mưa” sounds distinctively Ngọt: optimism overflowing in the lyrics, instrumentation never crossing into self-indulgence. At the same time, intertwined with said spirit, Ngọt sometimes goes into shoegaze mode (2:06 mark) and sometimes smartly incorporated an arpeggio section under the main melody. The most surprising addition is obviously the bridge where they completely went full on “indie rock” in such a confident manner that it is hard to believe they are so fresh-faced.

Though Ngọt does not reach the artistic heights they have set in their debut, “Một Ngày Không Mưa” does more than enough to show everyone they are still one of the greatest bands around.

Ngọt on Soundcloud, Youtube.


Nguyễn Vĩnh Tiến & Phương Thảo
“Bình Nguyên”

When the name Nguyễn Vĩnh Tiến is mentioned, I immediately think of the insane stuff he and Ngọc Khuê have done a decade ago.

Therefore, hearing a song like “Bình Nguyên” (Plateau), I am caught off guard by two things:

– One, I have forgotten his simpler tune can be as brilliant as his experimental one.

– Second, in the context of the current Vietnamese pop music it is increasingly polished and professional when it comes to arranging / producing

“Bình Nguyên” feels like a breath of fresh air – perfectly executed by the pretty guitar work and the crystal-clear vocals by Phương Thảo.

Nguyễn Vĩnh Tiến on Soundcloud.


“Có Quá Nhiều Phiền Lo”

As part of the greatest rap group in Vietnam – Hazard Clique, Blacka doesn’t go for a different sonic approach on “Có Quá Nhiều Phiền Lo” (Too Many Worries). Production still favors the R&B/Soul flavors of early Kanye West with an emphasis on achieving the nocturnal vibe.

Lyrically, the song is divided into 3 stories with a repeated hook from his label-mate Cam. In each one, Blacka takes us on a journey full of vivid details, impressing through his imagery and performance. He compares those stuck in poverty as “People who have nothing in their wallet and no taste of justice”. In the 2nd tale, he laments for himself through a third-person point of view (“Why does he keep worrying? While his friends keep spending with money they didn’t earn”).

Difficult childhood was listed as the prime reason for “Too Many Worries”, but when the song reaches the final scene, the character is no longer struggling. He’s now in his friends’ position, spending as much as he can though none of his worries seem to fade away.

By having a twist ending, the song escapes from being self-indulgent and too in love with its own struggles. Besides being an exceptional story-teller, Blacka is more than proficient technique-wise to elevate the song to a new height. The recognizable baritone certainly helps, and the fantastic hook from Cam does not hurt either.

Blacka on Soundcloud, Facebook.


“Có Em Chờ”
(ANDY Remix)

The original of “Có Em Chờ” (I’ll Be Waiting) is the equivalent of Old Navy in pop music: forgettable, bland and boring.

So what ANDY did here – get rid of the finger-snap, electric piano and switch them out for similar-sounding instruments which are drenched in tremolo/delay – is an act of wasting no time to establish himself as a smart and competent pop producer.

Right when the gorgeous intro ends, the song walks straight into an irresistible groove. Each layer of the lead and background vocals are neatly arranged. The mood-ruining rap from the original is kept to a minimum and the new drum arrangement is perhaps among the simplest yet effective choices of the year.

On one hand, the drum texture is soft enough to blend with other romance-evoking sonic details. On the other hand, it is also “edgy” enough to bring some contrast against Min’s dreamy vocal performance.

The remix does not stray too far from the original in terms of atmosphere, mood and vibe. But instead of being quiet and lazy, this particular version hit every subtle spot in the most memorable way.

ANDY on Soundcloud.


Vũ Cát Tường
“Ngày Hôm Qua”

Composed by Le Hoang Phong and arranged by Hieu Tran, it comes as no surprise that “Ngày Hôm Qua” (Yesterday) is the most R&B-indebted song in Tuong’s discography. Reflecting the current trends in V-Pop, the single immerses the composition in equal measures of Pop, R&B, Future Bass and Funk.

Even though the song does not strictly stick to one genre, it loses none of its appeal in either the production or the hook. What makes it work is the fact that Hoang Phong/Hieu Tran tease the climax at least twice and once VCT belted the living hell out of the final note, she immediately let go and let the funky arrangement take over.

We have no idea how she keeps pulling it off but when the result is this satisfying, our question becomes rhetorical.

Vũ Cát Tường on Facebook.


“Từ Ngày Em Đến”

What “Từ Ngày Em Đến” (Since You Come Around lacks in innovation, it makes up in polishing the existing formulas to perfection.

Going back to the instant classic “Đi Đi Về Về” or the pretty good “Rối Người” from last year, Da LAB proves themselves to be a surprisingly capable rap group in composing top-line melody.

In a song where 70% is singing, all members still brought it home with the soulful performances from both JGKiD and Rabbit Run. Sure they are no Jodeci, but the boys clearly know what tone to use during what section.

Plus, with the assistance from AD Production in the backing vocals, the lead vocals in “Từ Ngày Em Đến” (especially 2:47 and 2:59) is perhaps two of the prime examples in which V-Pop nailed the vibe of old-school R&B.

Da LAB on Soundcloud, Facebook.


Doãn Hoài Nam & Tank27

There was a time Doãn Hoài Nam (DHN) was a mystery within the Soundcloud community. There are too many covers of “Mơ” to count but his original could only be found through a shoddy video on Youtube. Then comes the surprise release of “Bất Ngờ” and the stunning “Hình Như Là”. The curtain has been slowly raised and coming forward is a songwriter whose voice is among the most distinct and emotive we have ever had.

“Tiếc” (Regret) continues to show off the usual strengths of DHN: the sharp songwriting, the understated performance and the gift of choosing the right instrumentation to maximize the lyrical content. “Tiếc” opens predictably but ends its familiarity with the surprise appearance of harmonica. In a lesser hand, the instrument could have disrupted the overall balance and pushed the song to corny-ville.

Luckily in the case of DHN, he’s not afraid to let harmonica take the center stage and when you have that much conviction, it doesn’t matter how sentimental a song can get. In the second half, when drums join in, the whole song became that sort of rare dream-pop in Vietnamese music. And at this moment, it is clear that the quiet confidence of DHN can convince even the most fervent doubter.

Doãn Hoài Nam on Soundcloud, Facebook.


“Gọi Tên Em” (KHÙNG Remix)

The original “Gọi Tên Em” (Call My Name) follows every rule of pop music. Cute songwriting? Checked. Bright, bland and inoffensive instrumentation? Checked. Calculated production with maximum cheese? Also checked. As a result, though not particularly bad, “Gọi Tên Em” sounds like the predictable canned response when you call to a half-dead call center.

So when KHÙNG eliminates every corny instrumentation, he’s already done almost everything right. Getting rid of the simmering guitar, KHÙNG instead opened the song with an atmospheric rain sample, pairing MIN’s desperate vocals with the icy scattered piano stabs.

This applies for every consequent musical choice: every sound was without hesitation, cold and they become the perfect foil to MIN’s girlish, sweet yearning. While the original was having a hard time trying to appeal to the mass, the remix did that effortlessly because it chose the instrumentation in a much smarter way.

Songwriting-wise, “Gọi Tên Em” is solid and not much to write home about. But in the capable hand of KHÙNG, he turned it into the best pop song of 2017: moody, sophisticated and flat-out brilliant.

KHÙNG on Soundcloud, Facebook.


Empty Spaces
“Một Cuộc Sống Khác”

From Empty Spaces themselves: “Một Cuộc Sống Khác” (Another Life) is the last song on “Tiến Hoá (Evolution) and it is also the one we wrote last. Therefore, the existence of its video is a last-minute plan on our part. We think it’s our finest work after “Xẩm Ngược Đời”. It has a little bit of Alternative and a bit of Psychedelic.”

“The song is structured with a clear build-up and hence, no similar section is repeated. Initially there was only one vocal line by Hưng but due to our own reasons about what sort of vibe we want, we added the vocals from Cường, along with drum machine, bass and arpegiator of the keyboard before using real drums. The end of this song actually circles back to the instrumental opener “Không Trọng Lực” (No Gravity) because we want the album to continue on like a loop.”

“The lyrics are inspired by the writer’s personal thoughts. If you listen closely, you would see the character in the song is surrounded by this utter loneliness in the city, the isolation from his friends and some blaming on his ex. When the song was composed, the writer was struggling with himself in a house rented in Hanoi’s suburban area. The house was vast, empty, and frighteningly silent.”

“In a word, there are 3 parts in the song: loneliness, former relationship and hope. Even though the recorded version doesn’t fully capture the spirit of the song (our live version is a bit different) due to the lack of the desired equipment, but the overall spirit is something we want to follow in our next projects, and hopefully, the next products will sound more complete.”

Empty Spaces on Soundcloud, Facebook.


“Hình Như Là”

It is hard to categorize HUB’s song “Hình Như Là” – or “It Seems Like” in English.

Its bass line borrows from both jazz and blues rock. The vocal performance possesses the raw spirit of punk. The chorus sometimes gets anthemic like a forgotten Arcade Fire cut and sometimes gritty like early Yeah Yeah Yeahs. And in the midst of all that, there is a rap verse from Minh Quân which could have been the hook from any rap hit in the 90s.

But “Hình Như Là” is not the result of a group who lacks direction. In the way the song builds from the verse to its chorus, there is a balance between the steady and the explosive. HUB never disrupts the flow of the song because they understand how to utilize the instrumentation to connect each part seamlessly.

Not only that, in the context of songs written by Doãn Hoài Nam, “Hình Như Là” is a huge surprise because it does not share the gentle melodic traits with his best works, for example “Bất Ngờ” (Surprise) and “Mơ” (Dreams).

In the end, the way Lê Bình delivered the song by blending a mix of disgust (“On what belief do I build my trust?”) and sarcasm, is so utterly satisfying for this stunner.

HUB on Facebook.