Various Artists

Cambodian Rocks Vol. 1

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As the anonymous compiler of this anthology of Cambodian pop/rock from the mid-'60s to the early '70s confesses in his brief liner notes, it's hard to make a representative collection of this genre as so much of the information surrounding the recordings and performers has been lost. (Not to mention that many of the recordings are likely forever lost, and many of the performers slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge.) However, this and a very few other compilations, such as Sublime Frequencies' Khmer Folk and Pop Music, Vol. 1, are doing their best to restore at least a bit of this intriguing style for wider availability, likely giving it more international exposure than it ever enjoyed at the time. Though this undeniably sounds strange to Western ears, it's not merely novelty. There are spirited vocals and off-the-wall combinations of bubblegum, garage rock, psychedelic rock, soul, melodramatic Cambodian pop vocals, surf guitar, and more, with more of a pop and rock influence than a folk or ethnic Cambodian one (though such elements aren't wholly absent). The songs are often pretty catchy, too, and though some are crude adaptations of big English-language rock hits ("Proud Mary," "House of the Rising Sun," "Gloria"), much of the material's drawn from other sources, and hence far more original-sounding. There are too many beguiling quirks to list in a single review, but Sinn Sisamouth's "Quando My Love" will certainly please fans of early Joe Meek productions, with its cheesy-yet-eerie guitar; Sisamouth's "I Love Petite Women" and Meas Samoun's "The Engagement" have a wicked sub-Santana menace; Ros Sereysothea's "I'm So Shy" is pretty gutsy soul-bubblegum with elephantine horns, lo-fi wah-wah guitar, and a lyric reading in part (English translations are given in the sleeve) "I'm still a virgin and I'm very shy"; and the same singer's "Wicked Husband" again sounds incredibly son-of-Joe Meek-ish. It seems like the organs and wah-wah guitars on much of this, in fact, must have been the most lo-fi ever manufactured, which makes them all the more interesting. The fidelity, as you might expect, is sub-standard in comparison with what was being recorded throughout much of the rest of the world at the time, but that's a small price to pay to hear these unusual recordings. Note that this is an entirely different anthology, incidentally, than the simply titled Cambodian Rocks, which came out on the Parallel World label prior to this compilation.

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