(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Recording review - Dengue Fever, Girl From The North (2013)

Auditory tapas: rich and exotic morsels to savor

Dengue Fever keeps fairly busy with international tours and running their label, Tuk Tuk Records. Aside from reissues of their earlier albums, Dengue Fever, Escape From Dragon House, and Venus On Earth, they've recently released a special collection, In The Ley Lines, which includes new arrangements and live versions of several of their classic tracks. All that is great, but where the new work that their fans crave? Cannibal Courtship (review) came out two years ago and we need another new fix. Wait no longer, relief is on the way. The group has a new EP, Girl From The North and it serves as a rich reminder of everything to love about the band. There are only three tracks, but every one is a gem.

The album leads off with "Taxi Dancer", the most straightforward selection of the set. It rides in that Cambodian rock sweet spot as surf and ska lock together with a retro pop twist. The call and response between lead singer Chhom Nimol and the band makes the verses sway, but her voice on the chorus is haunted and lost.

"Deepest Lake On The Planet" begins with a rich, Doors-style vamp: the slinky bassline weaves around Ethan Holtzman's moody organ, evoking "Riders On The Storm". The guitar tosses out a few delay-box mirrored riffs to intensify the trance-like feel. Nimol joins in and weaves a spell of sweet paralysis. The seductive beauty of her voice is first wistful, then calculating. Like their earlier work, this song demands that the listener surrender their will, but promises a lotus-eater's peace in return.

The title track pushes deeper into mind-expanding spaces. The band layers jazzy horns over an introspective jam creating a psychedelic raga. The organ and guitar engage in a tug-of-war for our attention until Nimol's voice slides in and takes center stage. The exotic sound of Khmer syllables is intoxicating. The solos that follow offer no respite. Zac Holtzman's guitar starts with a rippling waterfall phrase that eddies and mutates as it repeats. This is followed by echo-laden sax riffs from David Ralicke that climb ever higher before Nimol comes back in. Much like their classic "Seeing Hands", this tune begs for another ten minutes of exploration.

It's reassuring to see that Dengue Fever is still adept at creating these expressive tapestries of sound. Girl From The North is a small, flavorful treat like a delicious auditory tapas plate: deeply intense, but a small enough serving to whet the appetite as you savor the moment.

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