Unless you were living in Phnom Penh in the 1960s, you’ve probably never heard anything quite like Cambodian Cassette Archives: Khmer Folk & Pop Music, Vol. 1 (Various Artists, 2004) before. Painstakingly compiled from over 150 cassettes found in the Asian branch of the Oakland Public Library (by folks at Seattle’s own Sublime Frequencies label), this album is an eclectic collection of rock, dance, new wave, ballads, and other pop songs made in Cambodia and the United States (by Cambodian expatriates) from the 1960s to the 1990s. Little is known about many of these artists, many of whom may have perished under Pol Pot’s despotic regime; indeed, many tracks have neither titles nor artist names.
Yet the lack of information about these songs doesn’t make this collection any less fun to listen to. Fusing operatic Cambodian vocals with psychedelic guitar noodlings, synth-driven beats, and funky horns, these tunes will startle and delight new listeners with their unfamiliar yet extremely catchy mash-ups of Cambodian musical traditions and Western rock/pop influences. Those already familiar with Cambodian pop music will find old favorites like Sim Sisamouth and discover new artists. Fans of the L.A.-based garage band Dengue Fever will also appreciate hearing examples of the psych-rock that originally inspired the band, which is fronted by a Cambodian pop singer. Regardless of whether or not you speak Khmer, you’ll find yourself humming along to these tunes in no time!
HIGHLIGHTS:“Sat Tee Touy (Look at the Owl)” – artist unknown, “Don’t Let My Girlfriend Tickle Me” – Sim Sisamouth, “Two Wives Are Twice the Problem” – Prum Manh