Release Date: Jan 27, 2015
Record label: Tuk Tuk Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, International
If it seems an eternity since we’ve had a new record from the Cambodian/Los Angeles surf-fusion maestros, then it has indeed been four years since Cannibal Courtship emphasised the group’s psych-pop leanings, taking them away from the Khmer sounds they’d founded themselves on. In hindsight, that seemed to be the direction that they’d been heading all along. Their fifth album sends them back to their eponymous debut from 2003 – at least in part.
While Dengue Fever could almost have qualified as a novelty act when they first started out (Los Angeles hipsters playing decades-old Cambodian pop tunes? Talk about high concept!), they've matured into a richly satisfying band, blending several different cultures and styles into an indie rock melting pot, and 2015's The Deepest Lake, their sixth studio album, is another striking and pleasurable example of East meeting West. Though the exotica accents and semi-psychedelic drift of their earlier work are still clearly visible on The Deepest Lake (most notably on the lovely "Golden Flute"), African percussive accents and hip-hop elements play a larger role in this music, while "Rom Say Sok" is steeped in American R&B, "Cardboard Castles" lays distorted guitars and graceful guitars over quietly churning percussion, and "Still Waters Run Deep" sounds like the main theme of a spy movie set in Phnom Penh with its punchy horns and dramatic twists and turns. The members of Dengue Fever wrote, produced, and recorded all ten tunes on The Deepest Lake, bringing a witty and intelligent melodic sense to the songs and a clean, atmospheric tone to the audio, and while the songs are primarily sung in a Cambodian dialect by lead vocalist Chhom Nimol, the occasional bursts of English add considerably to the multi-cultural flavor of the music, allowing both sides to play like strangers in a strange land.
Dengue Fever have moved on. The world’s finest Cambodian-American band started out as revivalists, influenced by the pop styles that flourished in Phnom Penh in the 60s and 70s before being brutally stamped out by the Khmer Rouge. Initially seen as a quirky Los Angeles novelty, they have endured because they are a great live band, fronted by the impressively feisty Chhom Nimol.
Rarely does a band draw from such disparate influences as Los Angeles-based Dengue Fever, fronted by Cambodian vocalist Chhom Nimol. On its fifth record, the group creates a rich, fully realized work. Informed by Cambodian pop, girl group, surf twang, Afro-polyrhythms, jazz, noir, and LA rock, the songs are intricately arranged and executed with subtlety and rigor.