The band Dengue Fever have managed to build a career out of their obsession with Cambodian pop music of the 1960s and '70s, and with this compilation, they've generously allowed fans to sample their treasure trove of rare recordings, rescued from battered cassettes brought back from visits to Southeast Asia. While the Sublime Frequencies label has been releasing fascinating compilations of Asian pop from this time period, the music on Electric Cambodia: 14 Rare Gems from Cambodia's Past more closely walks a middle ground between the distinct melodic and vocal style of traditional Cambodian music and the insistent rhythms and electric instrumentation of Western pop and rock; instead of suggesting Asian folk music with some American pop added to the mix, these tunes tend to offer a more equal fusion of the two styles, and the creative and cultural mashups result in some inspired combinations. Highlights include the bright, kinetic sound of Ros Sereysothea's "I Want to Shout" (complete with a killer guitar solo), the assured R&B shuffle of "Shave Your Beard" from the same act, "Give Me One Kiss" by Dara Chom Chan, which recalls an Asian girl group backed by a ska band, and several cuts from Pan Ron, including the polished but driving garage rock of "Don't Speak," some heavily rhythmic psychedelia with "Jombang Jet," an appropriately melodramatic cover of Sonny Bono's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" dubbed "Snaeha," and an untitled number that features some deadly fuzztone riffs Link Wray would admire. This music is wild and energetic fun, though it's also a document of a short-lived era in Cambodian history that came to an end with the rise of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, whose efforts to rid the nation of modern Western influences led to the death of nearly all the artists represented on this disc. If there's a tragedy lurking behind this music, at least Electric Cambodia allows a wider audience to hear this remarkable music, and you don't have to be a collector of cross-cultural oddities to enjoy it.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming