Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dengue Fever - Escape from Dragon House (us-Cambodia 2005)

Dengue Fever - Escape From Dragon House (us-Cambodia 2005)

01. We Were Gonna   3:20
02. Sni Bong   4:26
03. Tip My Canoe   4:43
04. Tap Water   4:04
05. Sleepwalking Through the Mekong   3:38
06. One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula   6:41
07. Escape From Dragon House   4:21
08. Made of Steam   5:54
09. Lake Dolores   4:15
10. Saran Wrap   2:47
11. Hummingbird   5:05

For their sophomore album, Dengue Fever switch away from their nearly all-covers repertoire to try something a little more bold -- writing originals while still developing their rock-music-into-Cambodian-pop-and-back-again approach. It's actually a good move in order to escape from lingering questions of "just" being a museum piece of a group. Happily the six-piece step up, introducing an interesting curveball as well with a newly professed interest in the upbeat, horn-driven Ethiopian pop/funk/rock of the '60s and '70s collected in the Ethiopiques series.
Though one could cynically wonder if the band is going to end up incorporating a new retro scene per album, Dengue Fever clearly are out to entertain by whatever means, and by putting a slew of things together, create something new and unexpected. Chhon Nimol's singing is again top-notch, even slipping in a bit of hip-hop flow on "Sui Bong," while her greater fluency in English also creates more of a truly unique sound for the band. The Holtzman brothers again provide the musical core, with Ethan's work on organ providing the kind of smoky funk appropriate to the proceedings. Zac's guitar adds good crunch, but it's the strength of the overall arrangements that truly matters the most, as songs slip from bass/drum breakdowns to horn-driven explosions of joy. Standout moments include the nervous, almost early Cure-style introduction to "Tap Water," the beautiful ballad "Sleepwalking Through the Mekong," and the acid-trip drama of "One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula," which deserves to be a neo-psychedelic classic. The one cover this time around, "Tip My Canoe," is of legendary Cambodian singer Ros Serey Sothea, with Zac duetting with Nimol, a feat they repeat in English, Nimol taking the lead, on the passionate "Made of Steam." It would be striking to see what Dengue Fever could do with engaging fusions of the current day -- there are pop, techno, and hip-hop numbers worldwide as joyfully inspired and specifically local as those older songs the group adores. No matter, though, so long as the band keeps creating such excellent work.
 ~ by Ned Raggett (AMG).
World music-- music that expresses the indigenous folk traditions of a specific culture-- has always been closely bound with notions of authenticity, since it develops outside of capitalism's imperatives, solely as a conduit for a culture's heritage. Listening to Dengue Fever's second album, Escape from Dragon House, without any sort of background information or context, it's easy to assume that it's an authentic example of modern Cambodian pop music that has reached American shores, undiluted. In fact, Dengue Fever's story is much more complicated and-- depending on your perspective-- either inauthentic or thrillingly mutli-culti. For my part, I don't believe the dilution of world music is anything to get upset about-- it provides exciting new opportunities for musical expansion and cultural exchange. We tend to think of traditional music as something static, when in fact, traditions evolve over time, picking up new influences according to the maneuvers of history. Now that telecommunications technology grids most of the world, the rate of evolution seems to be speeding up, and the old styles we think of as so permanent either persist outside of the new music, or they become a part of it. So it goes.
American rock and soul music and its instrumentation and stylistic tenets found purchase in trad Cambodian music in the wake of the Vietnam War. So Dengue Fever are revising an "authentic" style that was actually bastardized from the moment of its inception, folding modern American pop idioms into a Cambodian style that was heavily influenced by classic American surf rock and Nuggets-era garage-psych. Dengue Fever also blend the long rhythmic lines of Ethiopian pop and jazz into the melting pot (for more on Ethiopian music, check out the Ethiopique series, or just ask Joe Tangari). But here's the real kicker: Except for the singer, the entire band is American. Based in Los Angeles, Dengue Feature includes Ethan Holtzman on Farfisa (his phrasing is reminiscent of Ray Manzarek's), guitarist Zac Holtzman, saxophonist David Ralicke (who's played with Beck and Brazzaville), bassist Senon Williams of the Radar Brothers, and drummer Paul Smith. The group assembled around their love of Cambodian music; only then did they find singer Ch'hom Nimol in Long Beach. Nimol sings in her native Khmer, and while she was making her Stateside living singing at Cambodian weddings, she was a star in her native country, often performing before the King and Queen.
Dengue Fever's debut album was all covers of the cute, romantic Cambodian pop of the 1960s. Having gotten that out of their systems, they've followed it with an album of original material that shatters the language barrier with mildly psychedelic, blissed out pop. On "Tip My Canoe", Zac Holtzman takes a stab at singing in Khmer, laying those long, mellifluous syllables over a tweaky vamp, as Nimol uses her imposing pipes to trace accents so dynamic that they sound almost vocodered as she leaps around her impressive range. "Sui Bong" channels Dick Dale through its verses and explodes into crunchy garage rock choruses, with a-- wait for it-- Cambodian rap bridge. "One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula" pairs sun-baked spaghetti western guitars with Nimol's clipped, forceful singing, and acoustic ballad "Hummingbird" closes the album on a quiet note, with Nimol sliding between English and Khmer. If that fact that Dengue Fever's music has been used in films as diverse as Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers and the John Cusack vehicle Must Love Dogs isn't proof enough of its potent versatility, then the ease and unity with which the band conflates idioms should be.
~ Brian Howe, December 5, 2005.

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Dengue Fever - Escape from Dragon House (us-Cambodia 2005)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dengue Fever - Dengue Fever (us-Cambodia 2003)

Dengue Fever - Dengue Fever (us-Cambodia 2003)

Formed: 2001,    Los Angeles, CA, United States

* Ethan Holtzman (Farfisa organ),
* Zac Holtzman (guitar, vocals),
* Chhom Nimol (vocals),
* Senon Williams (bass),
* Paul Smith (drums),
* David Ralicke (saxophone).

Related Artists: Jump with Joey, Radar Bros., Dieselhed
Genres: Pop/Rock, Cambodian Pop, Psychedelic Pop

Track List:
01. Lost In Laos (4:04)
02. I'm Sixteen (4:23)
03. 22 Nights (5:46)
04. Hold My Hips (4:30)
05. Flowers (4:47)
06. Thanks-A-Lot (2:11)
07. New Year's Eve (4:16)
08. Ethanopium (4:36)
09. Glass Of Wine (4:17)
10. Shave Your Beard (3:03)
11. Pow Pow (3:02)
12. Connect Four (4:00)

Even when you consider the cultural cross-pollination that goes on in large metropolitan areas, L.A.'s Dengue Fever had perhaps the strangest genesis of any band in recent memory. It's odd enough for a group of white musicians to cover psychedelic rock oldies from Cambodia, but finding a bona fide Cambodian pop star to front the band -- and sing in Khmer, no less -- is the kind of providence that could only touch a select few places on Earth. Formed in L.A.'s hipster-friendly Silver Lake area in 2001, Dengue Fever traced their roots to organist Ethan Holtzman's 1997 trip to Cambodia with a friend. That friend contracted the tropical disease (transmitted via mosquito) that later gave the band its name, and it also introduced Holtzman to the sound of '60s-era Cambodian rock, which still dominated radios and jukeboxes around the country. The standard sound bore a strong resemblance to Nuggets-style garage rock and psychedelia, heavy on the organ and fuzztone guitar, and with the danceable beat of classic rock & roll. It also bore the unmistakable stamp of Bollywood film musicals, and often employed the heavily reverbed guitar lines of surf and spy-soundtrack music. Yet the eerie Khmer-language vocals and Eastern melodies easily distinguished it from its overseas counterpart.
When Holtzman returned to the States, he introduced his brother Zac -- a core member of alt-country eccentrics Dieselhed -- to the cheap cassettes he'd brought back. They started hunting for as much Cambodian rock as they could find, and eventually decided to form a band to spotlight their favorite material, much of which was included on a compilation from Parallel World, Cambodian Rocks.
In addition to Ethan Holtzman on Farfisa and Optigan, and Zac on vocals and guitar, the charter membership of Dengue Fever included bassist Senon Williams (also of slowcore outfit the Radar Brothers), drummer Paul Smith, and saxophonist David Ralicke (Beck, Ozomatli, Brazzaville). Ralicke shared Zac Holtzman's interest in Ethiopian jazz, further broadening the group's global mindset. Thus constituted, the band went combing the clubs in the Little Phnom Penh area of Long Beach, searching for a female singer who could replicate the style and language of the recordings they had.
After striking out a few times, the Holtzmans discovered Chhom Nimol, a one-time pop star in Cambodia who came from a highly successful musical family (analogous to the Jacksons).
According to the band, Nimol had performed several times for the Cambodian royal family before emigrating to Los Angeles. Initially not understanding the band's motives, she was suspicious at first, but after several rehearsals, everything clicked. Dengue Fever made their live debut in 2002, with the charismatic Nimol in full traditional Cambodian garb, and soon won a following among Hollywood hipsters, not to mention L.A. Weekly's Best New Band award that year. Purely a cover band at first, they started working on original material after putting out a four-song EP locally. The Holtzmans wrote English lyrics and music, then sent the lyrics to a Khmer translator in the state of Washington, after which Nimol would adjust the melody and words to her liking.
Dengue Fever counted among their fans actor Matt Dillon, who included their Khmer-language cover of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" on the soundtrack of his 2003 directorial debut, City of
Ghosts. However, disaster nearly struck when Nimol was arrested in San Diego in accordance with the stringent, post-9/11 INS policy: she'd arrived in the U.S. on a two-week visitor's visa and simply stayed on. She was thrown in jail for three weeks, and it took nearly a year for the band's lawyer to secure her a two-year visa (his fees were paid through benefit concerts).
In the meantime, Dengue Fever released their self-titled debut album on Web of Mimicry, a label run by Mr. Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance. Most of the repertoire consisted of Cambodian covers, many originally done by pre-Pol Pot star Ros Sereysothea, but there were several originals and an Ethiopian jazz tune as well. With Nimol's limited English improving, the bandmembers considered putting some English-language material on their follow-up, but intended to stick with Khmer for the most part, in keeping with the music that inspired them. In 2007, Dengue Fever not only released Escape from Dragon House, but also starred in the documentary Sleeping Through the Mekong, which saw them performing their music in Cambodia for the first time. Venus on Earth debuted on the M80 label the following year; it was eventually picked up by Real World for world-wide distribution. In 2009, they released a CD/DVD entitled Sleepwalking Through the Mekong, which included the documentary and a compilation album. The band signed to Concord in 2010 and issued their debut for the label, Cannibal Courtship, in April of 2011.
 ~ by Steve Huey (AMG).
Despite its rough edges, the debut album by Dengue Fever is an indicator of where pop music is headed, particularly in areas of multicultural urban sprawl. Though Cambodian emigre Chhom Nimol's sinuous vocals dominate each song, Zachary Holtzman (guitar, vocals) plays an equally essential role in defining the band's direction. Retro surf guitar, the throwback psychedelic tone of the Farfisa organ, rhythms on songs like "Pow Pow" that conjure visions of James Bond dancing the Swim in a Hong Kong nightclub, as well as the absence of any post-punk or disco residue, create a sense of time displacement; this music could just as easily have been heard decades ago, long before American demographics had absorbed Asian pop influences. As a result, Dengue Fever also projects a feeling of being heard in another place, through the Asian modalities of its singsong melodies, the reverb that drenches Nimol's tracks and, above all, the fact that every vocal part, including those of the American-bred musicians, is in Khymer. This album matters, though, because of its relevance to a growing audience in the U.S. At long last, years after America tossed the seeds of its pop culture out into the world, the results are blowing back, taking root, and raising fascinating possibilities for what's to come in this newer New World.
 ~ by Robert L. Doerschuk (AMG).

Download Links:

...and also...

...and also...

...and also...

Dengue Fever - Dengue Fever (us-Cambodia 2003)