January 31, 2008

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Dengue Fever, Venus on Earth
M80 Records, Jan. 22
World-music albums come and go, but virtually none get handed a fluke editor’s choice pick on Amazon.com and explode the way Dengue Fever did. The band’s first album and Venus, their third, differ only in that the backing band — a diverse assemblage of scary-hairy slackers from L.A. — no longer have to rely on Sinn Sisamouth’s back catalog of 1960s Cambodian pop songs to keep them in business, as they’re writing their own stuff now. The story here, see, is that one of these average white LA cats went to Cambodia and decided to start a Cambodian pop band. They hired female singer Chhom Nimol and the rest is history – a growing arsenal of songs, most sounding like demos from the bar band in War of the Gargantuas. To Western ears, Nimol’s voice is alien — high-pitched, trilly, you know the routine, and I have to assume that it is indeed routine if you’re visiting from Phnom Penh. What’s cool about this is the slight tear in the fabric of American pop culture; the band does challenge listeners to move beyond canned anime-cartoon j-pop. B- — E. W. S.