Dengue Fever has the air of a gimmick: They're a Los Angeles indie rock band playing Cambodian music, fronted by a former Cambodian pop singer, Chhom Nimol. But the combination has worked quite well for the band since its inception in 2001, and its latest album, "Cannibal Courtship", finds Nimol singing both in English and in her native Khmer.
Therein lies the challenge of the band's approach. Not only does it feel disjointed to switch between two very different-sounding languages, but Nimol's petite-sounding voice makes the English lyrics sound a little too precious.
Some of these English-language songs just sound goofy; on "Cement Slippers", her coos of such lines as "My boyfriend loves everything about me / Except the endless hours of therapy" are cute the first time but grow tedious after repeat listens. By contrast, as with Dengue Fever's earlier material, Nimol's voice meshes perfectly when she sings in Khmer. She sounds sultry on the trancelike "Uku", while album closer "Durian Dowry" conjures a feverish vibe.
It's no surprise how natural these songs sound; the only disappointment on "Cannibal Courtship" is the group's inability to make their English-language songs sound as compelling.
-- Catherine P. Lewis