Venus on Earth (M80)

By Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever—the band, anyway, if not the actual fever—is from Los Angeles, not Cambodia. The group does, however, have a Cambodian-American singer, Chhom Nimol, who delivers the bulk of her lyrics in Khmer, and they draw heavily on Cambodian pop from the 1960s, a collision of indigenous music and American garage rock (see the Cambodia Rocks compilation and Cambodian Cassette Archives). There’s nothing particularly authentic or genuinely exotic about what Dengue Fever does—the style they appropriate was itself made up largely of appropriations and mash-ups—but wow, can they write some good pop songs. That Venus on Earth, their third album, recalls the cheap, fuzzy psychedelia of the aforementioned Cambodian anthologies (and whole chunks of the Ethiopiques series) is beside the point: the band cooks up a simmering, limber, languid jazz-rock with deep grooves, sophisticated melodies, and scorching instrumental displays, particularly from guitarist Zac Holtzman and his brother, keyboard player Ethan Holtzman. And Nimol’s voice, even in Khmer, is a wonder, a throwback to the girls groups of the ‘60s. But don’t pay attention to the nostalgia; Dengue Fever’s good right now.

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