Thursday, 19 August 2010

Venus on Earth by Dengue Fever

Californian psychedelia fused with Asian pop and clever whimsical lyrics fuse together to give Dengue Fever their signature sound.
Occasionally the lyrics are sung in Khmer by Cambodian vocalist Chhom Nimo. Her Yoko Onoish singing is layered over indie guitar riffs and an organ sound that would not be out of place in a 1960s sci-fi movie.
The strongest tracks on Venus on Earth are the earliers ones on the album, in particular Tiger Phone Card (my own particular favourite) and Sober Driver, both which involve vocal interplay between Nimo and guitarist Zac Holtzman.
Compared to Nimo’s assured delivery Holtzman’s voice by contrast is vulnerable, almost whinging as he berates his Asian muse for mistreating him.
Vocals aside the Cambodian influences are there, but never overstated. Dengue Fever’s sound is said to be based on a briefly flourishing Cambodian pop scene from the early 1970s, whose musicians were mostly murdered by the Khmer Rouge.
Knowing this is not essential to an appreciation of Venus on Earth but it does serve as a dark subtext to its cheery infectiousness.
Dengue Fever have a new album out, Sleepwalking Through the Mekong, and an earlier one, Escape from Dragon House, which on the basis of Venue on Earth will definitely have to be sampled.


Fionnchú said...

This band's singer was an illegal immigrant with no English (they got her legal somehow after some tussle) in the city where I teach, which has at least 70,000 Cambodians. Biggest city in the nation for this population. Not sure why these refugees all wound up there after the horrors of war, but their children in my classes seem to not to want to talk much about what their parents understandably don't want to talk about.

Glad to see a more carefree version of the Khmer impact's finding its way afar; this band's been working the indie scene in LA for about a decade, at least. Never heard them, but I have heard of them!

Happy listening-- this whole Third World meets psychedelia and garage and such early 70s genre is many a collector's obsession; check out the descriptions at the Aquarius Records website in San Francisco and you'll find yourself near bankruptcy and divorce. They mastered the art of copy editing there, I assure you, to inspire consumer demands for product galore.

Tony Bailie said...

John, I've since bought their newest album Sleepwalking Through the Mekong.
I visited Cambodia about eight years ago... Angkor Wat and Phnom Penh were I visted the S21 prison and went to the 'killing fields'. FOund it a very edgy place