Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever

BandAlternativeWorld

Biography

Dengue Fever is in the vanguard of an emerging global pop sensibility, making music that’s both familiar, yet eerily unique. Fronted by Cambodian pop star Ch’hom Nimol, who sings in Khmer, the Los Angeles sextet blends the rhythms of ‘60s Cambodian pop - heavily influenced by American surf, rock and early psychedelic garage bands - with their own eclectic mix of American and international styles. Unlike the world music bands of the late 80s, Dengue Fever is more concerned with a universal groove and breaking down musical barriers than with notions of authenticity. There are echoes of Bollywood soundtracks, Ethiopian soul, American R&B, Cambodian folk, Spaghetti Western weirdness and girl group angst in the mix, but the resulting concoction is all their own.

In addition to vocalist Ch’hom Nimol – who sang regularly for the King and Queen of Cambodia - Dengue Fever includes Farfisa organist Ethan Holtzman, his guitarist brother Zac (ex-Dieselhed), sax man David Ralicke (Beck/Brazzaville), bassist Senon Williams (Radar Brothers) and drummer Paul Smith. The band’s imaginative sound grabbed listeners from their first appearances. They won the LA Weekly’s Best New Artist Award in 2002, being cited for Ch’hom Nimol’s remarkable use of her high shimmering vibrato, theatrical stage moves and the band’s understated virtuosity. The band was also tapped by actor/director Matt Dillon to supply a Cambodian version of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” for his Cambodian based thriller “City of Ghosts.”

On Escape From Dragon House, the band’s latest effort, out [date here] on [label name here] the sound is denser, thicker and richer than on their 2003 self-titled debut. The songs on Dengue Fever, with two exceptions, were covers of the bright, bouncy pop and rock songs that dominated Cambodian music in the optimistic days of the early ‘60s, songs of boy-girl romance and innocent pleasure. The two originals “22 Nights,” a song inspired by Nimol’s arrest in 2002 during a post 9/11 code Orange alert on an expired visa infraction that landed her in jail for 22 nights and “Connect Four,” a tale of the board games ladies play in Cambodian cafes and shops as time slips between their fingers, hinted at the direction the band was moving in, a sound that emerges fully developed on Dragon House.

“Dengue Fever was the springboard,” explains Zac. “We were still discovering how the songs were constructed, slowly finding a way to put our own stamp on the music. We’ve come up with something that isn’t exactly Cambodian or American, although it is rock’n’roll.” Bass player Senon Williams agrees. “Dragon House is expression, where Dengue Fever was interpretation. Sonically Dragon House is more psychedelic, more free, more loose, more experimental.” There’s another unexpected international connection as well. The musicians were all fans of Buda Musique’s Ethiopique series, CD compilations of ‘60s Ethiopian pop and jazz hits by artists influenced by the sounds of American and British rock and soul. “The Ethiopians play amazing grooves,” says drummer Paul Smith. “But the way they accent the beat and the melodic approach is different, with longer phrases. It parallels what was going on in Cambodia at the same time, a musical style crossing borders and getting transformed into something new that comes back to its originators only to be transformed once again.”

As promised, the songs on Escape From Dragon House showcase a band moving in many directions at the same time, forging a sound that’s all their own. “Sni Bong,” which will be the band’s first video, has a jittery Motown meets Funkadelic rhythm that leads into a soaring chorus that Ch’hom Nimol delivers with a soulful wail, before dropping a bit of Cambodian rap into the coda. The mostly acoustic “Sleepwalking” is based on a folk song Nimol used to sing back in Cambodia and offers her a chance to show off her remarkable vocal technique, sliding from note to note and ornamenting lines with short arpeggios. Zac plays a dan bau, a single-string Vietnamese instrument and contributes subtle guitar accents full of bent and slurred notes while David Ralicke’s flute adds a soothing pastoral texture. The title tune is a straightforward rock tune with a catchy melody and a driving, garage band delivery. It tells the tale of a pretty girl forced to jump from job to job after encounters with lecherous bosses. The sinister groove of “One Thousand Tears of a Taratula” matches its subject matter. After the Khmer Rouge took over, pop singer Huoy Meas was taken out into the jungle and forced to sing and walk in circles, naked, until she was executed. Nimol’s dark, heavily processed vocals evoke the terror the musicians must have felt in their last moments; when Ralicke’s sax breaks out of the mix, his solo leaps up like a phoenix. Even though the singer is gone, the song lives on.

Escape From Dragon House is darker musically and lyrically than the band’s debut, with a fully realized style t