Dengue Fever is the brainchild of some punk kids who grew up listening to Eritrean jazz alongside whatever was playing on college radio, and fell in love with '60s-era "Khmer rock" by accident. Their secret weapon — procured after weeks of scouring karaoke bars and Cambodian nightclubs throughout Los Angeles — is gorgeous balladeer Chhom Nimol. Her pliant vibrato adds emotional depth and sex appeal to what would otherwise be a well-rehearsed rock outfit.
Dengue Fever's third full-length, Venus on Earth, could appeal to anyone from a world music buff to a Faith No More fan with tattooed sleeves and wallet chains. It starts on a crescendo that leads into "Seeing Hands" — probably the murkiest track on the album, though it's a great example of Nimol's vocal range. The mood shifts on a dime with "Clipped Wings," which sets surf guitar and handclaps against a doleful melody that could almost be an aria. From there, Dengue Fever really gets the groove going, reaching its creative peak in the moony ballad "Monsoon of Perfume." Though Nimol mostly sings in Khmer, she's always able to convey the sentiment behind her lyrics.
Bassist Senon Gaius Williams once disparaged world music as the stuff of guys with Guatemalan hats and fake accents, but Dengue Fever deserves enormous credit for reviving a genre that's long been supplanted by synth pop and karaoke bar music. And as Venus on Earth indicates, they've managed to keep the multi-genre thing from becoming an intellectual exercise. This new effort will undoubtedly propel the band to greater success.
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