First appeared on IGGY: November 21, 2008
Dengue Fever is easily one of the most original bands in indie music today. Cambodian rock music from the ’60s and ’70s isn’t really a go-to influence, but the Los Angeles-based six-piece finds endless inspiration in it. Their swinging songs, replete with vintage keys and lounge-y percussion, often deal with the complexities of modern relationships. “Tiger Phone Card,” is a passionate duet about a very long-distance relationship that references less-than-romantic details like checking email and taking Ambien. Brothers Zac and Ethan Holtzman who play guitar and organ respectively, formed the band in 2001 after being inspired by old-school rock and pop recordings from Cambodia. Their key recruit was the divine Chhom Nimol, whose cool, crying vocals in Khmer and English define Dengue Fever’s psychedelic sound. Nimol was a well-known singer in Cambodia before she moved to the US, where the brothers heard her in a nightclub and asked her to audition for their band. The group was a hit on their 2005 tour of Cambodia, which was a kind of homecoming for both Nimol and her band’s nostalgic melodies. The 2007 documentary Sleepwalking Through the Mekong chronicles their journey and offers a glimpse of modern Cambodia.
Taking the best of 60’s garage rock sound, they channel greats like The Kinks, The Yardbirds, and the Animals for their songs while at the same time overlaying the beautiful sound of Nimol’s voice in all it’s highs and lows. If you’ve never heard someone sing in Cambodian, this is the group to check out.