Dengue Fever- Venus On Earth (M80)
review by Ron Ozer

Track Listing

1. Seeing Hands 4:12
2. Clipped Wings 3:47
3. Tiger Phone Card 3:37
4. Woman in the Shoes 3:06
5. Sober Driver 4:05
6. Monsoon of Perfume 4:40
7. Integratron 3:43
8. Oceans of Venus 3:32
9. Laugh Track 3:28
10. Tooth and Nail 4:28
11. Mr. Orange

When Dengue Fever was forming in 2001, the band auditioned a number of Cambodian singers. Chhom Nimol was immediately at the top of the list. Well known in Cambodia, other singers simply dropped out when they heard she was being considered, so great was the respect they felt for her talent. Now, with a just released album featuring original songs sung in English and Khmer, Venus on Earth, the band is witnessing its biggest round of publicity yet. Already a darling of the NPR set, now they have interviews set with Terry Gross on Fresh Air and David Dye at World Cafe.

When you try to explain to friends about Dengue Fever, many people ask, what does Cambodian music sound like? But Dengue Fever is a synthesis of Cambodian music with so many other forms that it cannot be described so easily. It must be heard, it must be moved to. Before you sit down to hear this great band (or if you prefer, find a spot to dance about in), let me give you a tour of the new album which was released in January and has garnered raves from the New York Times, NPR Music, Philadelphia Inquirer, Spin Magazine and many other outlets. Opening with "Seeing Hands," the new album introduces an original vision for "world music," where songs written in English are translated into Khmer and given the florid vocal line of a Cambodian ballad. In this song we are told the earth is being despoiled in much the same way as a couple's bedroom is ruined by the husband's inability to pick up after himself. "Tiger Phone Card" is an unrepentant pop song in English, a duet between songwriter Zac Holzman and Nimol that sounds almost like a '60s Petula Clark ditty, something that could be heard in an Austin Powers film. But there is a just enough Asian edge, a slight weirdness to make the song modern and charming. Another English track that jumps from the CD (I almost wrote grooves, but sadly I do not have the LP version) with its original atmosphere and good humor is "Sober Driver." This song is set in Echo Park, California, home base for the band. The lyrics recall being telephoned to the aid of drunk companions as an after-the-fact designated driver. Mixing real disgust at the irresponsibility of drinking with a comic exaggerated misty almost Raymond Chandler-esque feel, this song feels classic and new at the same time. Middle Eastern and Asian sounds combine in another new song, "Integratron." In their press materials, Zac explains, "The 'Integratron' is a building in the Mojave Desert constructed by George Van Tassel using no metal, from instructions he says he got telepathically from extraterrestrials. We shot one of the videos for Dragon House [Escape from Dragon House, the band's 2005 second album] out there and wanted to pay tribute to it." The song does conjure up a strange barren land informed by otherworldly melodies, gorgeously put forth by the rich ethereal soprano of Nimol. "Oceans of Venus" sounds like a Dick Dale surf track, with the horns and Farfisa organ jazzing up what would otherwise be fairly conventional '60s psychedelia. "Tooth and Nail" is a haunting ballad that feels like a '60s French chanson, with a bittersweet longing in the vocal that is perfectly reflected in the flute solos.

Arden (DE) was recently privileged to have the international sensation Dengue Fever in our midst. Growing artistically and musically with each album, this is a band with whom we intend to stay closely connected in the coming years; they are the real thing.

Photos from the Arden Gild Hall concert available here.


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