Release Date: Apr 19, 2011
Record label: Fantasy
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Garage Rock Revival, International, Cambodian, Southeast Asian Traditions, Surf Revival
I can’t have been the only person charmed into purchasing Escape From Dragon House – the second album by Dengue Fever - on the strength an early press shot of the group. The photograph in question was taken in a room where sunlight streams in through honeycombed window shutters. The band’s Cambodian singer - Chhom Nimol - is dressed in a floral silk dress with her hair up, like some beauty from the 1950s.
On their first offering of new material since 2008's Venus on Earth, and their debut for the Concord Music Group's Fantasy imprint, Los Angeles-based sextet Dengue Fever ups its own ante. On their three previous outings, the tunes walked a knife's edge between American-style indie rock and an appropriation of Cambodian-influenced psych/pop/surf (which was in itself a blend of that nation's folk music with emerging American forms). On Cannibal Courtship, the band combines falls off the edge on both sides, and in the process, trademarks an indelible persona.
Typically, when Cambodia crops up in conversation, one might think of Dead Kennedys records or Biafra’s political satire. This is not a place internationally known as a pop music capital, but whenever Los Angeles gets involved, anything can really happen. Dengue Fever, for example? Know it, love it, catch it — except for, y’know, real dengue fever.
Sure, Dengue Fever deserves its fair share of credit as the one and only Cambodian pop/alterna-rock crossover around, but it’s also hard to shake the feeling that there’s some gimmickry involved with being multi-culti trailblazers. On one hand, you’ve gotta acknowledge the band’s fated, one-of-a-kind back story, which led brothers Zac and Ethan Holtzman to famed Cambodian-born karaoke songstress Chhom Nimol in a Long Beach bar after the siblings decided to seek out a vocalist who could sing in Khmer. And there’s no denying that Dengue Fever puts its money where its mouth is, not only providing indie audiences with a cultural education, but also in light of its charitable endeavors in Cambodia.
They may be quirky, witty and influenced by 60s surf styles as well as Asian pop, but Dengue Fever are no novelty. Fronted by the cool Cambodian singer Chhom Nimol, they set out to revive and update the music that flourished in Phnom Penh back in the 60s, when local musicians were influenced by the garage styles blasting out from US forces' radio stations in Vietnam. It was a scene that was brutally crushed when the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia, so it's appropriate that there's a sense of foreboding as well as fun in many Dengue Fever songs.
The fusionists are displaying increasing sophistication in their arrangements. Jon Lusk 2011 It’s now a decade since brothers Zac and Ethan Holtzman founded Dengue Fever, after meeting Cambodian karaoke singer Chhom Nimol at a nightclub in LA’s ‘Little Phnom Penh’ neighbourhood. Over the course of five albums and two EPs, their fusion of Cambodian pop, Californian surf/garage rock and more has blurred the artificial boundaries between world music and pop/trash culture with plenty of style and humour.