When Dengue Fever was born as an L.A. band that painstakingly and lovingly played covers of classic Cambodian psychedelic rock songs, who knew that they would still be on an upward creative trajectory after more than a dozen years? Or that the original lineup–including genuine Khmer superstar singer Chhom Nimol and local musicians with a stellar collective experience in other indie and DIY groups–would remain intact? Perhaps it’s because Dengue Fever was assembled on a crazy whim, united by friendship and a shared love for an obscure and nearly extinct but 100 percent fun style of music that is built upon mutation, experimentation, and cross breeding.
I’ve been sucked into their latest effort, The Deepest Lake, for more than a week now and it’s their strongest work yet–the most original in terms of new songs and sounds but perhaps closest to their much-loved debut’s tight focus and pure, joyful rock ‘n’ roll. The first song, “To Kay,” has the band’s heaviest groove yet–right up there with Massive Attack and Led Zeppelin. And what’s up with “No Sudden Moves”? Nimol has always sounded like an otherworldly angel or alien from outer space to me, but on that track she reels off rapid-fire vitriol like a pissed-off Rosie Perez in Do The Right Thing. Holy cow, that’s just the first two cuts…
I got to know the band right after I heard their demo on KXLU while I was in my car, called the station to find out who was playing such glorious music when I reached my destination, and got Senon’s phone number from the DJ (who said that the bass player probably wouldn’t mind). I met all of them at Dragon House, the Cambodian nightclub where the Ethan and Zac discovered Nimol, and ended up running Dengue Fever’s first piece of press in Giant Robot mag. We’ve stayed in touch ever since and, lately, I’ve seen them at kiddie birthday parties as much as I’ve said hi to them at their shows. So how could I not attend last night’s record release party at Sophy’s, their favorite Cambodian restaurant?
When my friend Paul and I arrived, most of the band was sitting in a booth and scarfing food. So we grabbed another booth and hung out with my friend Josh, who happens to be their manager, P.R. guy, fellow L.A. Kings fan, and co-founder of the Fun Lovers Unite! movement. Awesome food, awesome people. Paul, Senon, and Zac eventually came over to hang out and we talked more about our kids than the new album. Because that’s what parents do when they go out without their families.
There was a merch table. The Deepest Lake was available on baby blue- and beer-colored wax, and there was all sorts of new gear from shirts to kromas to a brand-new mix tape from Burger. Pledge Music supporters like me could pick up our rewards so the band could save on postage costs and fill up the gas tank on their upcoming tour. All of the members were there to take pictures, sign autographs, and hold babies. Totally informal and totally cool.
I thought it was going to be a quick hang with old friends but I wound up staying for an unannounced, informal, acoustic concert for 40 or 50 friends, family members, and die-hard fans in the restaurant’s banquet room. Rad! They played four or five songs in the sweaty, dark, echoing shoebox of a room that culminated in everyone circle dancing to “To Kay.” I totally thought someone was going to slip and get hurt on the somewhat greasy and slick floor, but there were nothing but smiling faces afterward. What a party.
Next week, the band embarks on a trip up the coast and there are a few more tours to follow. Get to know the new jams and then check out dates and ticketing denguefevermusic.com. If you go to The Echoplex, I’ll seeya there!