PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Dengue Fever: Cannibal Courtship

Whether being the one and only Cambodian pop/alterna-rock crossover around is novel or a novelty, one thing's for sure about Dengue Fever: They have fun doing whatever it is they're doing.


Dengue Fever

Cannibal Courtship

Label: Fantasy
US Release Date: 2011-04-19
UK Release Date: 2011-06-06
Amazon
iTunes

Sure, Dengue Fever deserves its fair share of credit as the one and only Cambodian pop/alterna-rock crossover around, but it's also hard to shake the feeling that there's some gimmickry involved with being multi-culti trailblazers. On one hand, you've gotta acknowledge the band's fated, one-of-a-kind back story, which led brothers Zac and Ethan Holtzman to famed Cambodian-born karaoke songstress Chhom Nimol in a Long Beach bar after the siblings decided to seek out a vocalist who could sing in Khmer. And there's no denying that Dengue Fever puts its money where its mouth is, not only providing indie audiences with a cultural education, but also in light of its charitable endeavors in Cambodia. On the other hand, Dengue Fever has gotten as much mileage as possible out of what can seem like a kitschy schtick, though it's tough to blame a group for making the most of the situation it's in. It's just that you can't always tell whether Dengue Fever's about crossing pop's borders or more like an example of world music tourism.

The thing is, though, Dengue Fever is really just a fun rock band when it comes down to it, albeit one that's a little more adventurous and eccentric than most in its tastes. Maybe the ethno-pop embellishments are never too far from the surface on Dengue Fever's fourth album, Cannibal Courtship, but anyone expecting something completely exotic and out there might be surprised by what's mostly a proficient mix of surf rock, spy soundtracks, funky jazz, psychedelia, and synthy new wave. In particular, you might be hard-pressed to discover anything too out of the ordinary, especially on the LP's first few numbers: While the opening title track is more or less a mid-tempo tablesetter adorned with some horns and sprightly keyboards, "Cement Shoes" is an East-meets-West girl-boy duet between Nimol and Zac Holtzman that shows off a little humor and a brisk beat to describe a dysfunctional relationship in which they can't live with or without each other. Even more conventional are the new wave redux of "Thank You Goodbye", on which Nimol does her best Blondie imitation to disco keyboards and driving vocal melodies, and the party anthem "Family Business", which radiates with the good vibes that really give Dengue Fever its identity.

When Dengue Fever does live up to its reputation by creating a hybrid sound, the sextet does so with more subtlety and cohesion than you'd imagine, threading the needle between its seemingly incongruous influences by stitching them together. "Mr. Bubbles" really puts the spotlight on Nimol, giving her a chance to show off the range in her voice, as her stylized Khmer singing has plenty of room to breathe before seguing into her breathy English vocals. On "Only a Friend", the band achieves a feeling of camaraderie through musical idioms, as the song's Cambodian arrangements come together well with the group's funkiest grooves and jazziest improvisation on the album. The same can be said for closing number "Durian Dowry", ending Cannibal Courtship on a high note -- literally -- as Nimol's ethereal voice floats over some tastefully cool and mellow lounge rock.

However, that sense of balance is difficult to strike and even harder to maintain consistently, most noticeably when Dengue Fever looks to back up its too-cool-for-school street cred. There are a few too many parts of the album where Dengue Fever tries too hard to live up to hipster expectations, overdoing its Orientalized surf-rock deal as if it's auditioning for a cameo in some potential Kill Bill sequel, like on "Sister in the Radio" and the instrumental "Kiss of the Bufo Alvarius". And the look-at-me eccentricities of the lyrics tend to stick out for the wrong reasons throughout Cannibal Courtship, even on the most musically compelling tracks, from the absurdities of "Mr. Bubbles" ("And Mr. Bubbles / He foams at the mouth / And his lipstick is smeared") to the gratuitous STD references on the chorus of "Only a Friend" ("I'm overseas / Flirting with girls / And catching diseases," Zac Holtzman sings). Most egregious and out-of-place, though, is the tongue-in-cheek apocalypse prophecy "2012 (Bury Our Heads)", basically a B-movie B-side that doesn't have much in common with what else is on the album.

What it all boils down to is that it can be hard to tell if Dengue Fever is more successful at being novel or being a novelty act. Cannibal Courtship doesn't really resolve those questions about Dengue Fever, but answering them isn't such a big deal when the band sounds like it's having as good a time as it is here.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.