Here’s an interesting journey: Ethan and Zac Holtzman, two Los Angeles-based musicians with a bent for the surf rock of the 1960s, go on holiday to Cambodia and fall in love with what has survived of the country’s pop industry following the murderous reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Back home, they encounter Cambodian pop music in Long Beach’s Little Phnom Penh area and decide to start playing it themselves. In Khmer. With psychedelic rock licks. Add three more band members and Chhom Nimol, a sublime singer who is herself part of the Cambodian diaspora, and, hey presto! Dengue Fever.
Packaged with a DVD that follows Dengue Fever’s 2005 visit to Cambodia, Sleepwalking through the Mekong is a thrilling release. It’s a dance record galvanized for the groove; it’s a John Pirozzi film that takes a serious responsibility for the band’s material and details commitment to Cambodian heroes who are trying to rebuild the country’s heritage after Pol Pot’s Year Zero madness. The 17 music tracks are mostly covers of vintage Cambodian songs made famous by Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Serey Sothea and they zip along; they would be a confection were there not something so serious behind them. Nimol weaves songlines around Dengue Fever’s laid-back dudes, and the album is enhanced by improvisation sessions with musicians such as Master Kong Nai, a survivor of Year Zero and a maestro of a loose chapei.