It wasn’t enough that the Los Angeles band Dengue Fever took ’60s Cambodian pop as their main architecture. They had the random good fortune to chance upon a Cambodian vocalist working in a Long Beach club who was willing to front the indie outfit. From the beginning, Chhom Nimol’s voice gave Dengue Fever an eerie authenticity and lifted the project free of being just another cover band with weird taste. For good measure, Dengue Fever infused their Cambodian set with an Addams Family-meets-surf rock bounce with intimations of psychedelic rock.
With all of that going on, one is hard pressed for a description. For one thing, you don’t know where the emotions will fall in this kind of music. But then, pop music from California has a history of delightful madness. The West Coast gave the world surf rock, psychedelic rock, Frank Zappa, and Orange County hardcore — just to name a few of the pure California genres that have infiltrated rock culture.
The band is barely seven years old, and on their first few CDs they performed only Cambodian-pop covers. Later they began to write new material in the same idiom, and Nimol sang some of the lyrics in English as well as in her native tongue. Don’t look to this band to make the rafters shudder — no guitar grinders here. Instead it’s fairly authentic (if dated) Asian pop stuff with Farfisa organ and a comic sax woofing around the melodies. The surreal atonality of the Asian musical scale as played by American rock musicians lends the feeling that one has entered into a kind of Jim Jarmusch time warp tempered by a gust of ice-cold Asian sexiness. Passing strange, yes, but from this catalog of disparate parts Dengue Fever has carved out a groove. Nothing this interesting or challenging, I think, since Morrison Hotel.
DENGUE FEVER, The Casbah, Saturday, April 19, 8:30 p.m. 619-232-4355. $14.