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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Movie lovers may remember the 1973 Bruce Lee hit "Enter the Dragon" as a groundbreaking mix of martial arts and Hollywood magic. Now with a new album called "Escape from Dragon House," the musical group Dengue Fever is trying to replicate the successful mix of pop culture from the East and the West. Music critic Sarah Bardeen has this review.

SARAH BARDEEN reporting:

Dengue Fever doesn't play world music as such. It's more like maraca-shaking, go-go-boot-wearing '60s rock. It's the ultimate tribute from a bunch of besotted American indie rockers and a Cambodian singer to the weird and wonderful world of Cambodian pop. It's a joyfully weird hybrid.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. CHHOM NIMOL (Dengue Fever): (Singing in Khmer)

BARDEEN: Dengue Fever vocalist Chhom Nimol has quite simply one of the most effervescent voices I've ever heard. A huge pop star in Cambodia, Nimol doesn't conform to Western singing standards, and thank God. Instead, she strays into upper registers where Western singers fear to tread, taking each note through about six permutations in the process.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. NIMOL: (Singing in Khmer)

BARDEEN: But Nimol's vocal dexterity doesn't keep her from singing straight pop. Check out the girl-group chorus on their first single, "Sui Bong." Ronnie Spector, move over.

(Soundbite of "Sui Bong")

Ms. NIMOL: (Singing in Khmer)

BARDEEN: For all the exuberance, Dengue Fever doesn't ignore Cambodia's turbulent political history, including the years after genocidal dictator Pol Pot came to power in 1975. The song "One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula" details the last hours of Cambodian pop star Huoy Meas. She was executed by the Khmer Rouge after being forced to strip naked and walk in circles, singing for her captors. The song's revolving psychedelic feel captures in some small way the numbing, nightmarish quality of that experience, and countless others that were never told.

(Soundbite of "One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula")

Ms. NIMOL: (Singing in Khmer)

BARDEEN: Guitarist and singer Zac Holtzman actually learned enough Khmer to sing alongside Nimol a few times during the album, and I find that Holtzman's voice anchors and even brightens the piercing clarity of Nimol's voice. They sound great together on the English-language track "Made of Steam."

(Soundbite of "Made of Steam")

Mr. ZAC HOLTZMAN (Dengue Fever): (Singing) Aspects of life all around the air falling at the perfect speed, not too fast, not too slow.

Ms. NIMOL: (Singing) Ahhh.

BARDEEN: And that's the thing about Dengue Fever. They're making music that's just Western enough to be familiar and just foreign enough to be exotic. The band cannibalizes global culture and captures the heady spirit of the rock revolution, reinventing it without simply recycling it. Their giddy excitement is real and--Dare I say it?--infectious.

(Soundbite of "Made of Steam")

Ms. NIMOL: (Singing) Steam rises high from the parquet on the floor.

BARDEEN: Sarah Bardeen is a writer living in San Francisco.

(Soundbite of "Made of Steam")

Ms. NIMOL: (Singing) ...anymore. And I feel warm, and I feel well...

BRAND: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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