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The Kallikak Family

May 23rd 2007

(Tell-All; US: 23 Aug 2005; UK: Available as import)

Stream of Subconsciousness

Most mundane uneventful non-tragic days are like streams of water, a graceful continuing flow that ambles across the bank, sweeping memories and experiences as if they were pebbles and dirt along the way. It does not know where it is going, save for a conviction that it must be in motion ad infinitum, till ripple or drought or sea makes it cease.

Unlike those streams of water, the Kallikak Family’s sophomore effort May 23rd 2007 knows its destination rather well. You see, according to the press release, the album title is the date of Andrew Peterson’s death as foretold by a fortune teller, and the artist does an ambient interpretation of the days and moments that lead up to that fated date.

This brings to mind St. Etienne’s double album, Tales from the Turnpike House, a down-tempo rendition of a suburban day-in-a-life. However, St. Etienne is the superego, content to delve into the actual happenings of the day in the bombast and color of its unfolding. On the other hand, May 23rd 2007 operates on the level of the id, penetrating the very marrow of the subconscious molding of memory and recording what it finds.

Notable psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced the concept of “flow” to the Western imagination, which he describes as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” It is the modern equivalent of the Zen philosophy of “being one with nature.”

You see, the thing about the genre is that it is vanity to write and describe it. It doesn’t make sense to describe the Kallikak Family’s music as “minimal folktronica” and expect it to mean something.

The thing is it is more apt to view the album as almost a literal, though melancholic, representation of the flow. In other words, if we choose to be carried away by the “current” of minimalism, we experience what the artist experiences before he reaches the day of his demise.

From the gentle liquid swirls of Fennesz’s work, to Phillip Glass-style austerity, and across a whole spectrum of musique concrète, all these electronica embellishments function as tools of reminiscence. Every effervescent bloop, bleep, click, and even blank space serves as keyholes, a reenactment of the random fractured nature of memory.

Laughing children. Lonely rides on the highways. Voices in the head. Everyday hustle and bustle. Splashes of water. Playground love. Doing dishes in busy kitchens. Nocturnal rambles. Lovemaking sessions. Confusion. Resignation. Fighting against the night. White noise.

The acoustic guitar parts are significant, being the only instance of organic instrumentation in the album. In a whirl of artifice, it is the natural that grounds the artist in some semblance of stability. Both “Guitar I” and “Guitar II” are about the artist in contemplation, an attempt to make sense of it all. The artist plucks strings in familiar ways, and a recognizable sadness overtakes the listener.

Like a puzzle, it provides us a jigsaw to piece together. The 17 tracks merge into an aural collage of human existence.

Love. Joy. Peace. Tears.

Mostly tears, actually. A purely biological response, the emotional basis numbed by time and fate. And boy, do they flow.

The Kallikak Family has created one of the most memorable experimental efforts of 2005. It is music Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would have bobbed his head to. 

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