Carol Bui: Power Amidst Chaos, Confusion, and Change

Raucous teens stood around abashedly while chatting among themselves. The smell of Dorito’s and Frito’s permeated the air. DC-based Post-punk singer/guitarist/songster Carol Bui stood center stage alone, and sang a capella a traditional Vietnamese folk song in Vietnamese, under the dim stage light at the Third Floor in Fredericksburg, VA on the night of 2/23/08. (“Gau cao gio bay” appears as the last track of Bui’s critically favored 2007 album Everyone Wore White). In the open gallery hall, Bui’s voice reverberated far and deep as it pierced through the vociferous chattering of the teens. Social interactions ceased suddenly and then everyone proceeded to sit down to witness Bui’s evocation. People and spirits congregated, all anticipating a night of vigor, thrill, and rock and roll. Its ritualistic resonance was astounding and sobering.

Carol Bui’s band joined her after the opening number. She rocked out on her Telecaster the rest of her set. They played songs from Everyone Wore White. With precise and apt distortion, Bui’s guitar spoke and cried with anger. Her guitar playing is Sonic-Youthian and her aesthetic leanings toward noise and ambiguity remind me of the Riot Grrrl sound and PJ Harvey. Bui's voice bled through vulnerably. She sometimes took the liberty to let her vibrato quiver and sometimes sail into a sonic abyss. Her voice trembled, but never faltered. Strength prevailed in every enunciation.

The harmonic complexity – with a plenitude of minor chords, modal intervals, and dissonance – in Bui's music projects a sense of tonal ambivalence. Her anchorless music rustles in the mind and engenders a vivid context for emotional density. In this musical world, the dichotomy between tension and resolution doesn’t exist. No gravitation, only snippets of stasis. Existential angst is nothing new in the post-grunge age. But Bui’s astute emotional detailing is remarkable. Her songs touch on subjects such as faith, mother-daughter relationship, broken heart, adolescence, places, and the interconnection between these parts of life.

I love Carol Bui’s songs. Bui’s self-consciousness means to me an audacity to confront life’s difficulties. It is power amidst chaos, confusion, and change. I’m not sure if the teens at the Fredericksburg All Ages show felt that about Bui’s set. Maybe it takes a slightly more aged soul to appreciate Bui.

More images of Carol Bui's show.

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