It’s a curious conceit of rock critics that we love being the early adopters who discover great new talent, but we want that talent to stay exactly as we found it, as if the music is some sort of archeological treasure, suspended in amber for the ages. We can’t imagine a musician might continue along an evolutionary progression and grow and mature artistically. Or worse, we dismiss artists we like when they become too popular, as if being adopted by a wider, mainstream audience taints artistic credibility.
I know I’ve been guilty of both. I dismissed Joni Mitchell past “Miles of Aisles” as becoming too arty (as if her earliest, brittle folk gems weren’t also arty to the extreme). I blew off Bruce Springsteen once he sold a bazillion copies of “Born in the USA.” The fact is, most music critics are snobs, and we’re proud of it. Over the years since I “retired” from being a full-time music critic, I’ve mellowed and accepted that I have biases (old-fart biases at that), and see how I blocked out good music by being an obstinate butthead.
So I was surprised when I realized I still fall back on snob instincts with new music from time to time. These days I rarely write about any music unless it’s related to my interests in Asian culture or Asian American community.
I’ve written in the past (here and here), for instance, about Dengue Fever, an alt-rock band from California that was formed by a pair of white brothers who fell in love with Cambodian rock of the 1960s, and found a Cambodian singer to help them meld that sound with surf and psychedelic music.
For years I’ve been intrigued by the band’s globe-hopping musicality and especially enchanted by singer Chhom Nimol’s slinky, elastic vocals, which snakes through melodies with the tonality and scale of traditional Cambodian folk and pop songs.
In a word, though I hesitate to use it because it’s such a loaded symbol of Orientalism, objectifying Asian culture and people, my attraction to Dengue Fever is in large part because of Nimol’s exoticism.
There, I’ve said it.