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Kallikak Family - May 23rd 2007

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Artist: Kallikak Family

Album: May 23rd 2007

Label: Tell All

Review date: Aug. 15, 2005

It’s June 9, 2008. Andrew Peterson (braintrust of Kallikak Family, stationed in Portland, formerly of Chicago) is still alive. With the release of his much-anticipated LP Many Now Living Will Die Today around the corner, it’s probably going to stay that way.

In case you’ve been hitting “snooze” on your satellite radio, here’s the backstory: Back in 2005, when the housing bubble had yet to pop and gas prices were just beginning to rise, Peterson dropped May 23rd 2007, a head-spinning concept album. A fortune teller had forecast his death on the titular date, thus lending him morbid inspiration.

That record had it all back then. It cribbed from every malnourished turn-of-the-century avant garde trend, from the scratched-disc skitter of Oval to the mellow computer bob of Four Tet and Caribou to the bombastic business of serious DJ culture to the deep-fried Faheyisms of Chicagoan “post-rock” to the lo-fi purism of Microphones. It reflected the times through a mirror of distinctive design, shattered into dozens of shards, each of a different shape. At some moments, such as the sweeping, nigh-gospel intro to “Third Phase” and “Portland Oregon Part Two,” it was transcendent. On “Portland Oregon Part Four,” it was funky, equal parts attitude and atmosphere. And it moved so damn quickly.

A few people heard it. A few of those were deeply inspired. One in particular, to his credit, has made no secret of his debt to Peterson.

During the summer of 2005, the summer of May 23rd 2007’s release, Rollo B (or Ivan DaVilla, to his family) spent countless unemployed hours on the floor of his Chicago garden apartment, headphones sutured to his skull, absorbing Peterson’s expansive meisterwerk. His agile mind dissected it, held it up to the light, and cataloged its subtle peculiarities.

A year later, Rollo B pirated a hard drive full of sound-assembly programs from his older brother, a successful graphic designer. This allowed him, after months of constant labor, to create a close facsimile of the Kallikak Family’s attention-deficient collage, and plug in a few Bill Hicks and Mitch Hedberg samples. (Critics have noticed a similarity of no less than 69 percent, B has never claimed otherwise.) He borrowed an undisclosed sum, enough to purchase a rickety 808 and buy the services of Tone Loc, then a forgotten one-hit-wonder. And, over that summer, he recorded Candy Grease.

With the 808 tying the attention-deficient vision to a rudimentary beat, and Loc’s snake-charmer vocals supplying the ego, the album couldn’t miss. Released on the indie Absolutely Kosher and quickly bought up by Warner Brothers, Candy Grease was immediately, and correctly, hailed as an assimilationist triumph. (The Pulp Fiction comparisons became a blogger cliché within a week.) Its cerebral-but-infectious leadoff single “Medical Bus Accident” mesmerized a national consciousness previously numb from the informational overload of the early Bush years. The album set up shop at No. 1 (pop, college, collage and RPM) and rested there for months.

When B and Loc embarked on their sold out world tour, they invited Kallikak Family to open. While Peterson was obviously not at home on stage, his became the heaviest name to drop since Afrika Bambaataa‘s, and May 23rd 2007’s then-intimidating title became social currency among ’burb brats who’d never heard the album.

Meanwhile, May 23, 2007, passed without incident.

Let us not speak of Rollo B’s poorly received sophomore disc And Now… (Suffice to say it’ll be a while before another star producer, however naïve, takes an unlicensed turn on the mic.) The new Kallikak Family record, three long years in the oven, will hit the racks in a few hours. The leaks have been spellbinding, at once more ambitious and more starkly personal than anything May 23rd promised. Anything less than a revolution will be a disappointment.

By Emerson Dameron

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