Monday, August 25, 2008

Dengue Fever

Holiday in Cambodia
Dengue Fever – Venus on Earth (2008)
Real World

If I were to actually write about the band Dengue Fever, this review would be about ten pages long. Disease , Jail, prolonged visas you name it, it has happened to this sextet. But in that long journey a lot has shaped up Dengue Fever and it is all culminated in this third offering. Without going into the finer details of the band’s history I still have to give some background on the band as their unique take on rock affects the sound on this album.
Essentially the band hail from L.A. however one band member, Ethan Holtzman went to Cambodia and fell in love with the style of music, which is roughly a mixture of lounge rock, pyschedelia and surf rock. Lyrics are sung in Khmer, which give the music an overall eerie feel.
On returning to America Holtzman managed to form a band with like minded intentions and, the biggest coup of all, roped in Cambodia’s biggest pop star, Chhom Nimol as the frontwoman.
Now there is a LOT more to this tale but I’m going to cut to the proverbial chase and get straight to Album number three.
‘Venus on Earth’ marks a change for the band, it is the first time that Dengue Fever have steered away from covering Cambodian rock standards and filled an album with original material.

Furthermore it is marvelous.

It is not an easy album to get into at first, most of the tracks are sung in Khmer and Nimol’s voice borders on the squeaky in places but give it a chance, maybe a few spins and you’ll understand what it’s all about. In fact what is off putting may be endearing by the next spin.
I find that the album starts to find it’s feet by the third song, ‘Tiger Phone Card’. A call and response ditty, with a swagger, in fact there is a lot of swagger in these songs. It’s not an arrogant swagger but one of confidence and know-how. That is not to say that it’s all twangy surf guitars and big drums and psychotic saxophones . ‘Tooth and Nail’ is a flute driven ballad of wide eyed beauty and closer ‘Mr. Orange’ will make you sway and to those lucky enough to get the U.K. version will be treated to a bonus track that will make you gawp, you’ve got to love a group who’s extra material is just as good as the main songs on the album.

Within the pages I have been extolling constantly on how traditional indie rock has been able to incorporate different cultures within it’s musical schema, whether it’s the African beats of Vampire Weekend, MGMT and TV on the Radio or the Romanian folk cribbed by Gogol Bordello and Devotchka, rock dalliance with foreign cultures is becoming more prominent (to be fair during the late seventies and early eighties there were groups who combined music from different countries together but now cultural hegemony has made critics more aware). Dengue Fever are not bandwagon jumpers but rather part of this 21st century new wave of bands and to be honest they are one of the more interesting ones at the moment. I thought of ending this review in a clichéd manner by saying that Dengue Fever (the band) are similar to Dengue Fever (the disease) but it’s better to end on this point.