October 21, 2004

Various Artists

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Compiled from an abandoned archive tucked away in the basement of the Oakland Public Library, Cambodian Cassette Archive is easily the best album yet from eccentric world music label Sublime Frequencies. High praise considering their excellent surveys of folk from Java, Myanmar, and Palestine put the Rough Guide and Explorer series to shame. Unbeknownst to most of the world, Cambodia housed a vibrant rock underground during the 1960s: traditional Vietnamese folk merged with ’50s easy listening amidst the distribution of French pop and American psych. Those inclined towards ’60s garage should be steered toward the stunning “circle dance music” of the recent Cambodian Rocks. For everyone else, Archives offers virtually every major genre of music, from folk to disco, and runs chronologically from the pre-genocide 1960s through the Killing Fields of the 1970s. There is simply no denying the sort of wild conflagrations that result when Nashville guitar is buoyed by thrusting scythe percussion, orchestral trills, and submerged noir synths. Sinister disco, ska, and folk entwine like some early incarnation of Camper Van Beethoven. Voices extend and constrict, torn between jazz subtlety and rock histrionics. And it includes the most tantalizing scenario in pop music: ’70s Cambodian dub with lyrics about the perils of polygamy.

Archived article by Alex Linhardt
Sun Arts & Entertainment Associate Editor