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Dengue Fever – Cannibal Courtship

Nichola Eastwood


For those who love a bit of world music spicing up their CD collection or just something rare and weird, Dengue Fever are pretty much the perfect ticket.  It doesn’t get much more obscure than this, the Los Angeles six blend Cambodian inspired pop with psychedelic rock to produce the smoothly retro sound that abounds in this latest effort, Cannibal Courtship.

Opener and title track, Cannibal Courtship, introduces us to Chhom Nimol’s distinctive vocals (which are often in her native Khmer tongue).  Barely audible at first the chorus sees her voice reach notes verging on ultrasound, all the while holding on to an alluring silkiness.  Chhom’s vocal talents aren’t the only startling thing here, the lyrics don’t disappoint either, with Chhom innocently crying out for a ‘sacrificial lamb’.  It becomes pretty obvious at this juncture that Dengue Fever are akin to a  musical Marmite, you’ll either love their quirky novelty or detest this world music take on retro pop.  Cannibal Courtship’s brand of psychedelia is nicely completed with vintage keyboard and backing vocals.  Cement Slippers takes on a rockier twist with fellow band member, Zac Holtzman, sharing vocal duties.  The aquatic lyrics tie in with the tracks’ retro surf feel, largely led by the hypnotising keyboard and guitar.

UKU is a gem of a track with it’s chilled out (and unbelievably cool, if we’re being honest) guitar and Chhom’s vocals transforming into a melodic wail for the most part.  It’s simple, but all the better for it.  Family Business is another trippy number in this nostalgic catalogue and that’s no bad thing.   It’s an instant sing along number, largely owing to the backing vocals which compliment Chhoms’ efforts and the aforementioned surf vibe guitar.  Only A Friend combines a retro jazz and blues feel.  The bands’ quirky song writing skills prevent this number from slipping under the radar, ‘ I’m overseas/ Flirting with girls/ And catching diseases’, not the average lyrics of your typical love song.  Kiss Of The Bufo Alvarius (not a song title you’re likely to forget in a hurry) is an instrumental that wouldn’t look out of place as background music to a cheesy sixties or seventies film.

Thank You Goodbye is an addictive number, with a chorus showcasing the very best of Chhom’s vocals, it’s about as mainstream as this six are likely to get, if you don’t like this track probably best to steer clear of the rest of the album.  Mr. Bubbles owes its hypnotic quality to the Khmer lyrics, you’ll find yourself leaning over the speakers trying to decipher Chhom’s mysterious wails.  Cannibal Courtship finishes with Durian Dowry, another of the album’s Khmer sung tracks (which for the most part, are actually the better moments on the album).  It’s an enchanting end to this retro infused display of world music, as ever, Chhom Nimol’s voice working over time to leave your ears hanging on every note.

This is musical caviar at its best, an acquired taste, if retro world music is your thing then Dengue Fever may well be your new favourite band.  For those with less exotic tastes this might prove a bit much for your musical palate.