Music

Dengue Fever: Escape From Dragon House

Dan Nishimoto

The Los Angeles sextet get thoughtful with their sashays the second time around. Just don't call it Cambo-Pop.


Dengue Fever

Escape from Dragon House

Label: M80
US Release Date: 2005-09-13
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

A few years ago, "dance" came back. Not as some ballroom revival, but as a buzzword. For example, the following have unequivocally earned approving nods in both alternative and mainstream press for containing that derriere-appealing je ne sais quoi: concerts that incite one to, parties that inspire a frenzied bout of, and songs that contain traces of (but are not exclusive to the genre) dance. Quite a contrast to not too long ago when the snoberatti considered a vacant stare and a glum swoon an indulgence. Now, the Rapture could be described as "post-punk disco". And that's a good thing.

So, I was, all, big fucking deal!

The funny thing is that dance is a natural part of music. Its invocation in terms of fashion seems embarrassingly obvious, like making "fragrant" the in word to describe perfume. After all, shoegazing may be the golf of dynamic movement, but it still (subtly) involves a body in motion; one person's wallflower sway can be another's 1, 2 step. And isn't that the universal bull's-eye of good music: the body? Hence, the motive power of music is more like a constant than a vogue. In other words, it ain't ever been hip if you didn't feel it there, as well.

The joy then of Dengue Fever is how they capture this quality in such a roundabout yet intuitive manner. Consisting of five American musicians versed in the gamut of Western pop music (Beck and Snoop Dogg to Dieselhead and the Radar Brothers) and a recently emigrated singer who had performed for the king and queen of her native Cambodia, the group began by covering -- what else? -- '60s Cambodian pop. Understandably, the audiences of Little Phnom Penh and Hollywood found this unexpected culture clash time warp to be highly curious, but they also recognized the familiar chords. The music was rooted in popular Western modes like rhythm and blues, surf and psychedelic, while prominently featuring Cambodian 'standards' and even Ethiopian rhythms. What Cambodian musicians had riffed on a generation prior was being re-spun by the new Young Americans for their Young American peers. And that the crowds responded with both circle dances and go-go spazz was a positive reaffirmation of the inescapable lure of good music.

On their second album, Escape From Dragon House, Dengue Fever retains their body movin' charm while adding a healthy dose of palpitation. Opting to write originals instead of performing covers, the band now balances whimsical footwork with touching heartache. The group takes command at first with "We Were Gonna" and the record's sole cover, "Tip My Canoe" (written by revered Cambodian pop stars Ros Serey Sothea and Sin Sisamouth), both bristling with trademark funk hustle and an airy caress of a melody. However, tracks like "One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula", which deals with the purported execution of Ms. Serey Sothea at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, unravel tension and horror through menacing horn squelches and elliptical minor key riffage. Even more than on the previous record's poignant moments, such as "22 Nights", singer Ch'hom Nimol reaches deep into her voice to drape "Sleepwalking Through the Mekong" in a thick fog, a cloudy passage through memory for a past melody. Indeed, Escape leaves the immediate appeal of barroom entertainment for more nuanced experiences.

In this manner, lead single "Sni Bong" best exemplifies Dengue Fever's burgeoning ability to navigate both past idioms and its unique presentation. With aplomb, the band balances farfisa riffs, balls-out rock choruses and even a rap bridge in Khmer. The result is unfamiliarly funky, yet appealing as a pop nugget. With little pretension or pandering, the band proves the existence of intelligent dance music.

Admittedly, Dengue Fever occasionally skirts developments in contemporary music in favor of a comforting pastime paradise. The title cut laces up its go-go boots while the tender "Hummingbird" sighs heavily under '60s sunshine. Even the indulgent soundscapes of "Saran Wrap" can't escape a past hash automatic writing exercise. Still, the group exhibits an effortless sense of fun throughout Escape. Considering the deluge of music with virtually conditioned responses -- Perfecto mixes dilate my eyes, while dueling banjos turn me off from pork -- the willingness of a group to break from the confines of Pavlovian responses should be applauded and encouraged. So, here's hoping future listeners make a similar escape and just dance to the Fever.

8

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image