“Those who know me know that I am a very greng jai kinda guy,” Phum Viphurit told NME last year, referring to the practice of polite acquiescence familiar across Asian cultures, as it’s called in Thailand. “I usually play the chill card and just kinda flow along with things. This album and its title breaks that mold for me.”
- READ MORE: Phum Viphurit on the life-changing journey to his new album ‘The Greng Jai Piece’: “I’m glad to have collected myself”
Sure enough, his recently released second LP ‘The Greng Jai Piece’ – titled after the last portion of shared food people decline to eat out of courtesy – is a refreshing deviation from his past material. The typically mellow Viphurit takes on thorny topics, spiking his sunny, laid-back rhythms with stories of substance addiction and suicide (‘Healing House’) and reflections on social standards that breed fake empathy (‘Greng Jai Please’).
But the multi-instrumentalist also takes his sweet time reveling in the groove, as in the hugely fun and funky ‘Lady Papaya’. Recalling Harry Styles’ ‘Watermelon Sugar’, a vocoder-ed Viphurit turns a transaction with a papaya salad seller into a two-minute double entendre: “Lady Papaya, give me extra spicy,” he trills.
The songwriter-producer also plays to his strengths of crafting pop hooks with personality, peppering the songs on ‘The Greng Jai Piece’ with elements of reggae, neo-soul, funk-jazz and R&B – these enjoyable instrumentation make up for the record’s minor hiccups. Take ‘Tail End’ featuring HUGO. The Brit-Thai rocker’s gruff voice complements Viphurit’s honeyed croon across soaring instrumentation and harmonies – but the pair’s observations on hitting rock bottom from the perspective of a pious narrator, though colourful, comes across as contrived. Most ironic is its chorus: “At the tail end of pleasure / it feels like nothing at all.”
‘Tail End’ definitely feels superfluous next to ‘Healing House’, a track much superior in re-examining empathy: “Tell me what you’re running from / I will listen I won’t judge,” Viphurit sings over a slowly plucked guitar, addressing a person grappling with self-destruction. “One more night / You’re just one sleep away from morning light / Yeah, it’s OK to cry / Just please don’t say goodbye / You are everything to someone”. Viphurit risks sounding hokey, but sounds genuinely invested in talking someone (or himself) off the ledge. The punchy, head-bobbing arrangement doesn’t hurt either.
The album’s centerpiece track ‘Greng Jai Please’ doesn’t disappoint. The 27-year-old wryly unpacks his takes on propriety with the happy help of handclaps and a funktastic guitar and bassline. He barks in one verse: “Welcome to society / member of the land of smiles / be sure to brush your teeth”. And bitingly in another: “You’ll say anything to save your face / this is how we all survive / what a time to be alive”. Then pointedly in the chorus: “How many layers must I peel / to know exactly how you feel”.
Viphurit closes the album with the dour and downtempo ‘Welcome Change’. He sings to an ex-lover, with self-awareness and in the lowest register he’s mustered on the album: “I see you hiding your heart / From my eternal sunshine”. This and the next line sums up Phum Viphurit’s approach on ‘The Greng Jai Piece’: “You’ve got to be brave and welcome change.”
The record, however, feels less like a departure and more of an emboldened homecoming for the amiable Thai-born Kiwi transplant. The album’s artwork captures its distinct point of view, as he told NME: “I wanted to allude to my distorted Thai-ness and third culture kid background, hence the sloth in the middle of a very traditional-style temple wall painting. A mix of things that don’t really fit but co-exist anyway.”
Though not flawless, ‘The Greng Jai Piece’ is a triumphant snapshot of an already celebrated singer-songwriter coming into his own.
- Release date: January 31
- Label: Rats Records