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V/A - Cambodian Cassette Archives: Khmer Folk & Pop Music Vol. 1

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Artist: V/A

Album: Cambodian Cassette Archives: Khmer Folk & Pop Music Vol. 1

Label: Sublime Frequencies

Review date: Aug. 31, 2004

Mark Gergis, the keyboardist of Mono Pause and Neung Phak as well as the compiler of I Remember Syria for Sublime Frequencies, culled this CD’s 20 tracks from cassettes he found in the Asian branch of Oakland, California’s public library. They sound pretty good, especially considering that the tapes were subject to incremental erasing as they were passed repeatedly over the check-out desk’s magnetic eye.

The majority of the tracks were recorded by the mostly nameless musicians who have catered to exiled Cambodians in the decades since the Khmer Rouge rolled into Phnom Penh and set about killing all the musicians, whom (like teachers, artists, and anyone with a college degree) they deemed to be a subversive element. However, six pieces date from before the fall. It’s all pretty effervescent stuff; the tunes are catchy and the arrangements, done up in a succession of cheap imitations of Western pop music styles, range from fuzzbox ‘n’ Farfisa-fueled garage rockers to skinny tie techno-pop.

Most of the record isn’t quite as rocking as Cambodian Rocks, but on the other hand, it isn’t marred by that collection’s revisionist post-hoc overdubs. It imparts its share of double take-inducing parallel universe moments; one unnamed tune’s upfront bass and hazy production sound like it was laid down at Lee Perry’s Black Ark Studio around 1977, another has a guitar break reminiscent of the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs.” The constant is the highly ornamented singing, which strays far from the instrumental melody line in order to accommodate Khmer’s nasal vowels and elastic consonants; you can be sure that the Sun City Girls’ Alan Bishop copped some of his more uninhibited vocal stylings from Cambodian pop.

For more info on Sublime Frequencies, read Alexander Provan’s label feature here.

By Bill Meyer

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