Venus on Earth
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2008, Volume 15, #7
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Fri July 25, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Every now and then, a song or an album will connect with a person on a very deep level, subsequently causing him or her to fall immediately in love with it, despite not knowing the reasons why. Venus on Earth, the third outing from Los Angelesí multi-cultural Dengue Fever, is just such an endeavor. It sounds like a cross between Japanese bubble gum pop and a lost outing by the Talking Heads, one that also has been shredded by guitar feedback. Although these comparisons ultimately are inadequate, the bottom line is that Venus on Earth is otherworldly and entrancing, and it contains music that is unlike anything else on the planet.
Led by Cambodian chanteuse Chhom Nimol and American singer/guitarist Zac Holtzman, Dengue Fever previously had spent its time setting Cambodian pop hits from the 1960s inside rock-oriented arrangements. For Venus on Earth, however, the outfit crafted a collection of original songs to place into its world-dance blender. At times, the material, with its swirling organs and crunching surf guitars, sounds like a series of lost classics from The Ventures. At other moments, the band offers some of the goofiest dance riffs this side of the B-52s.
Venus on Earth contains only two tracks that are sung in English ó Tiger Telephone Card and Sober Driver ó and these give listeners a chance to appreciate Dengue Feverís lyrical wit as well as the often hilarious vocal interplay between Nimol and Holtzman. With its tale of drunken phone calls and long distance romance, Tiger Telephone Call is one of the catchiest cuts of the year, so far. It also serves as the perfect introduction to the groupís music.
With Cambodiaís recent violent history still hovering in the worldís collective consciousness, one might have expected Dengue Feverís work to assume a more political tone. Clearly, the band has chosen to avoid making overt statements. Instead, it has concentrated on the music itself. Still, one could argue that the aesthetics of traditional Cambodian styles that inform Dengue Feverís melodies are in themselves forms of diplomatic maneuvering that are designed to make a point, especially considering that the Khmer Rouge attempted to obliterate the populationís knowledge of their own history. The lack of any obvious assertions in Dengue Feverís songs likely contributed to the Cambodian governmentís decision to allow the outfit to be the first Western band to tour in the country since the revolution began more than two decades ago.
In the end, Venus on Earth is an album that doesnít rely on any cultural or musical context to succeed. It is enjoyable completely on its own terms. Nimol has so much poise, timing, and charisma that one doesnít need to understand Cambodian or have knowledge about the countryís turbulent history. She effortlessly encapsulates the energy that rockís newfound global diversity is generating. With any luck, Dengue Fever will gain momentum and recognition because Venus on Earth is a delightful endeavor from a band that already is quite exciting to watch. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
Venus on Earth is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box