September 11, 2003

Test Spin: Dengue Fever

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Who’s down with that Cambodian surf rock? Hands shoot up around the room. Not quite. Dengue Fever is not the kind of band you hear everyday. Actually, they’re not the kind of band you hear just about … ever. As strange a combination of styles the description suggests, the music on Dengue Fever’s self-titled album doesn’t suffer from any lack of cohesion. With a set of resumes like the one of this band, that’s hardly a surprise.

Singer Chhom Nimol is a well-known Cambodian pop star who’s performed for the King and Queen of Cambodia. Saxophonist David Ralicke has toured with Beck, and guitarist Zac Holtzman and bassist Senon Williams boast experience with Dieselhead and the Radar Bros., respectively. Not to mention most of the songs on the album were written by Ros Serey Sothea, who is alternately described as the “Goddess of Cambodian Garage” or the “Queen of Khmer Music” depending on your dictionary.

Instrumentally, Dengue Fever’s sound is pure coastal surf, straight out of a Quentin Tarantino movie. There’s the growling saxophone, guitars strummed as casually as a breaking wave during low tide, and bass lines that walk all over the melody like a seagull on a longboard: all ingredients for laid back, jazzy surf rock with Cambodian vocals integrated expertly. Nimol’s voice is delivered in a style tonally reminiscent of Southeast Asian sensibilities, replete with chromatic intervals and melodic embellishments (think somewhat similar to Indian singing-style), and they fit nicely in the larger musical framework.

Dengue Fever makes you want to dance, lay on the beach, and learn Cambodian all at once; not too shabby.

Archived article by Thea Brown