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Music Review: Dengue Fever's 'Deepest Lake'

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Dengue Fever is a band from Los Angeles. It composes in the style of '60s and '70s Cambodian surf rock. If that sounds like a gimmick, it's not. The band has been going strong for over 13 years, touring the world and winning fans from Peter Gabriel to Metallica's Kirk Hammett. Reviewer Banning Eyre says the band's latest album, "The Deepest Lake," breathes new life into Dengue Fever's unique formula.

BANNING EYRE, BYLINE: These days, it's once again fashionable to dub music psychedelic. Anything with ambient guitars, retro keyboard sounds and groovy beats seems to qualify. Dengue Fever has all of that, but also something else, something better - this entrancing voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOKAY")

CHHOM NIMOL: (Singing in Khmer).

EYRE: That's Chhom Nimol, a star vocalist back home in Cambodia. She moved to LA in 2001 and within months was approached by musician brothers Zack and Ethan Holtzman. These guys were avid collectors of Southeast Asian pop music and were looking for a singer to perform the music with them. Dengue Fever started out playing Cambodian covers, but now they easily compose in the style, adding original flourishes from rap to punk.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROM SAY SAK")

NIMOL: (Singing) (Singing in Khmer) Let down your hair and soak it all up. (Singing in Khmer). Tip back your head and finish the cup.

EYRE: A few songs on the album, "The Deepest Lake," incorporate English. But whatever the language, the lyrics are vivid and mysterious.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAXI DANCER")

EYRE: This song, "Taxi Dancer," is about Phnom Penh club where men pay to dance with girls.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAXI DANCER")

NIMOL: (Singing in Khmer).

EYRE: "Song after song," sings Nimol in her native Khmer, "he dances on my heart. Play the part, I'm just a taxi dancer."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAXI DANCER")

NIMOL: (Singing in Khmer).

EYRE: Dengue Fever's trenchant grooves and textures really draw you in. With minor keys and ominous aesthetics, they create an irresistible world in which Nimol's liquid voice rains. At the same time, the band can pull out the stops with glorious surf rock bravado.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STILL WATERS RUN DEEP")

NIMOL: (Singing in Khmer).

EYRE: Dengue Fever deserve credit for sticking with an offbeat idea and making it work for over a decade. More than just good fun, this music has power.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STILL WATERS RUNS DEEP")

NIMOL: (Singing in Khmer).

EYRE: This frenetic number is somewhat ironically called "Still Waters Run Deep." On "The Deepest Lake," so does Dengue Fever.

SIEGEL: Banning Eyre is senior editor at afropop.org. Dengue Fever's new album, "The Deepest Lake," is out this week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.