Venus on Earth
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Reviewed by Michael Fortes
But once they start playing, and once said Cambodian frontwoman begins to sing, that’s when the idea of this band being little more than a curiosity begins to fade away. Formed in L.A., the concept for Dengue Fever was born out of a trip to Cambodia by keyboard player Ethan Holtzman. Whereupon Holtzman became enamored with the ‘60s Cambodian rock music he first heard during his trip, he soon turned his brother Zac onto what he found. America had no idea what it was in for.
The band has worked at honing its blend of surf guitars, swirling psychedelia, Farfisa organ and Cambodian pop over the past six years. The results speak for themselves: a worldwide following that has sprung up in the wake of a fun and dance-inspiring live show; numerous tours; the recent documentary “Sleepwalking Through the Mekong,” about the band’s first trip to lead singer Chhom Nimol’s native Cambodia; and the release of their third album, Venus on Earth.
For the uninitiated, Venus on Earth is as good a place to start familiarizing themselves with Dengue Fever as either of the previous two records – the band’s sound has changed little since its inception, and Venus on Earth simply delivers more of the same. Most of what Nimol sings is in her native Khmer language, which adds mystery and intrigue for Western ears. This works most effectively on the album’s opener, “Seeing Hands.” Droning Farfisa, slinky percussion and a strong Eastern vibe merge seamlessly with Nimol’s syncopated vocal, as it seemingly floats from the same imaginative space as Oasis’ similarly trippy “Who Feels Love.”
Occasionally Nimol will apply her enchanting siren of a voice to a song or two in English, as she does on the delicate song of devotion “Tooth and Nail.” The two others she sings in English, “Tiger Phone Card” and “Sober Driver,” have guitarist Zac Holtzman sharing the vocal. Holtzman may be the better English speaker, but Nimol is clearly the more accomplished, robust singer. The effect of the two of them singing together is comparable to, say, imagining Stephen Malkmus singing a duet with Barbra Streisand. Clearly, one singer is going to appear out of his league.
This one small distraction aside, Venus on Earth serves as a worthy follow-up to the exciting second album, Escape From Dragon House, and continues Dengue Fever’s world-psych-pop odyssey in style.