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Oceans of Venus,
This review is from: Venus on Earth (Audio CD)
Dengue Fever are a group of eclectic LA hipsters fronted by a bona fide Cambodian pop star (Chhom Nimol), who make a heady brew informed by retro spy-movie soundtracks, psychedelia, lounge jazz and rock and roll. Apparently influenced by organist Ethan Holtzman's trips to Cambodia in 1997 when a unique local 60s-era rock was still prevalent, the band's sound is fleshed out with wide ranging influences from Ethiopian jazz, surf, and garage rock. Nimol's sings mostly in Khmer, giving it distinct Eastern melodies, while the sonic landscape is a mish-mash of retro stylings that would make it ideal for a Quentin Tarrantino or Jim Jarmusch soundtrack. In fact, if you like this you would do well to pick up the latter's Broken Flowers OST, which features the likeminded Holly Golightly and a selection of tracks from the Ethiopian Jazz scene popularised by the Ethiopiques series of compilations.
Beyond all the esoterica, however, Venus on Earth is simply great fun, a collection of left-field pop songs full of hooks and hypnotic grooves. It varies from the Cambodian pyschedelia of opener 'Seeing Hands' to the more American rock'n'roll infused 'Tiger Phone Card' and 'Sober Driver', which feature male back-up vocals and English lyrics. Dengue Fever are strongest, though, when Nimol is allowed to soar and dip alone like a Khmer Liz Frasier. 'Clipped Wings' and 'Woman in the Shoes' do this best, with the vocals beguiling over brooding and intoxocating atmospherics. In the latter, Nimol shifts stealthily between Khmer and English, and you're caught off guard when the lyrics gain a sudden eerie lucidity: "close to me, holding hands at the bottom of the sea / I'll hold you tight until you can't breath".
Foreign language music is often given the rather summary and dismissive categorisation of 'World Music', but this is a narrow and dogmatic viewpoint. Just as current buzz acts such as Vampire Weekend and Yeasayer look further afield for musical reference points, there are numerous acts on the World circuit making exciting and adventurous music that seems set to be embraced by a wider audience. If you like this, try aforementioned artists or soundtracks, or check out Crammed label's '20 Ways to Float Through Walls'. Open your ears and enjoy.