PREVIEW Inspiration comes from the strangest of places. It came to organist Ethan Holtzman when he left Los Angeles behind for a six-month journey through Southeast Asia. As he traveled on the back of a pickup truck, his driver was blasting tracks by Cambodian stars of the 1960s and '70s, many of whom were eventually killed by the Khmer Rouge. Drawn to the slinky, bouncy sounds of legendary artists like Sin Sisamouth, Holtzman returned home, determined to bring the electric style to the west. After recruiting four other LA rockers, including brother and ex-Dieselhed member Zac, to fill out the band, Holtzman knew he needed a vocalist to bring the project to life.
Enter Chhom Nimol. The group met the 29-year-old chanteuse in a nightclub in the little Phnom Penh district of Long Beach and, after much convincing, the Cambodian expat decided to attend a rehearsal. Thus, Dengue Fever was born. While they began as a cover band, reworking songs from Cambodia's golden era of rock, they soon began writing their own material, first in Nimol's native Khmer and later in English. Their new material is a compelling mixture of surf, psychedelia, and indie rock, while still remaining deeply rooted in Cambodian pop. Their latest album, Venus on Earth (M80), dispels any last whispers that they're a novelty group, and displays their continuing maturity and advanced songwriting prowess. Numbers like "Seeing Hands" and "Sober Drivers" tell compelling stories, and employ sweeping melodies, driven by Nimol's ethereal vocals. In an indie climate sorely lacking in dynamic, trailblazing groups, Dengue Fever breathes fresh, exciting life into a scene in danger of going stale.
RICKSHAW STOP'S FIFTH ANNIVERSARY BASH With Dengue Fever and Goh Nakamura (Fri/2) and the Attachments (Sat/3). Fri/2Sat/3, 9 p.m., $8 advance. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. (415) 235-5718, www.rickshawstop.com