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Dengue Fever 

Venus on Earth (M80)

Wednesday, Jan 30 2008
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Los Angeles' Dengue Fever is a truly multicultural rock band ... no, wait, don't skip to the next review. Its members are neither a bunch of PC neohippie purists nor purveyors of cheesy exotica. Dengue Fever comprises members of Dieselhed and the Radar Brothers who immersed themselves in pop music from Cambodia, especially its 1960s counterpart to Anglo-American surf, garage, and psychedelic rock. Then they got together with Cambodian expatriate Chhom Nimol — once a major pop star there — and began blending more pop/rock genres than you've had hot breakfasts.

Dengue Fever's second release, Venus on Earth, offers the trebly, mystery-movie-soundtrack guitar of "Oceans of Venus" with its bluesy sax solo, and the sultry Middle Eastern–flavored melody of "Clipped Wings." With a coolly confident, slightly bratty tone recalling the Motels' Martha Davis, Nimol sings mostly in the Khmer dialect. A couple of Venus' songs are in English, however, such as the aching Roy Orbison–like ballad "Tooth and Nail," replete with Bollywood-echoing flutes, and the-Mamas-and-the-Papas-go-to-Hong-Kong "Tiger Phone Call." Dengue Fever clearly respects its inspirations, but the group's recordings aren't the pious "reverence" of a museum exhibit. They're not playing "traditional" music; they're playing fun pop informed by sundry cultures from around the globe. Dengue Fever delivers a world-music version of the B-52s or Stereolab (only more rockin'), making Venus on Earth just what this crazy, mixed-up planet needs.

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Mark Keresman

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