Dengue Fever

Cannibal Courtship

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On their first offering of new material since 2008's Venus on Earth, and their debut for the Concord Music Group's Fantasy imprint, Los Angeles-based sextet Dengue Fever ups its own ante. On their three previous outings, the tunes walked a knife's edge between American-style indie rock and an appropriation of Cambodian-influenced psych/pop/surf (which was in itself a blend of that nation's folk music with emerging American forms). On Cannibal Courtship, the band combines falls off the edge on both sides, and in the process, trademarks an indelible persona. Cambodian-born vocalist Chhom Nimol sings in both English and Cambodian, depending on the cut, but musically, Dengue Fever's seamless reconciliation of sounds nets often startling results. There is the mysterious, swirling, spaciousness of "Uku," which somehow comes off as even more trippy than anything they've done previously. Then there are the driving rock & roll numbers, such as the bilingual "Only a Friend" and the careening "Family Business." Other flavors in this heady mix include the bluesy, surfed-out guitar and Rhodes piano on the opening title track, which explodes into an orgy of horns, Theremin, and cracking snares on the chorus. "Mr. Bubbles" weaves Nimol's voice around the Farfisa, which moves right into some gloriously spooky guitars, only to come out on the other side with an indie pop refrain and bridge. "Cement Slippers" features a fuzz guitar and overloaded big horns in vocal duet between Nimol and guitarist/vocalist Zac Holtzman; they come off sounding like a cross between a 21st century B-52's and NOMO. "Kiss of the Bufo Alvarius" is an instrumental that could have been written and arranged by Les Baxter, it's so exotic and sophisticated; and though it's a breezy rock tune, it includes shimmering flute and trumpet breaks, and percolating bongos. Album-closer "Durian Dowry" is the most perfect meld of indie rock's obsession with retro-psych and Cambodian rock. Nimol's ghostly voice swoops and swoons through the lyrics above the band's delirious, infectious rock & roll. Cannibal Courtship is easily Dengue Fever's most consistent, sophisticated, and accessible recording to date, and one that should, with any luck, net them more than a few new fans.

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