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Dengue Fever

If the name Dengue Fever doesn't give you enough of an idea about this band's psychedelic tropical heat, how about this: The lead singer is Cambodian pop star Ch'hom Nimol; the sax player, David Ralicke, plays with Beck; guitarist Zac Holtzman used to be in Dieselhed; and the bassist is Senon Williams of the Radar Brothers. Started by Holtzman and his brother Ethan after an inspiring trip to Cambodia (where a friend of Ethan's did, in fact, contract dengue fever), Dengue Fever's first self-titled record covered Cambodian pop songs from the '60s. Escape From Dragon House is the band's second record, and is composed of mostly original songs sung in Khmer, with surf-rock guitars, Ethiopian rhythms, Farfisa organ and Bollywood-style theatrics. It sounds like the soundtrack to the Asian version of a not-campy Gidget.

Something about Nimol's high and wavery vocals swirls evenly with the organs, guitar, drums and saxophone, making the combination wonderfully unique in its seamlessness, even when Zac sings in Khmer ("Tip My Canoe") and Nimol sings in English ("Tap Water"). "One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula" begins with a Pulp Fiction-esque guitar, followed by Nimol's reverb-soaked vocals; the song is based on the death of '60s Cambodian singer Huoy Meas, who was forced to sing naked while walking in a circle before she was decapitated. Cambodia's thriving rock scene was destroyed by Pol Pot, and it's only been in recent years that the music has seen a revival; Dengue Fever's international blend is infectious and vibrant.

More by Annie Holub

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