Calika: Small Talk Kills Me

Given Simon Kealoha's aversion to small talk, we'll in the same spirit proceed directly to the matter at hand: assessing his Calika debut. While it flirts on occasion with conventional compositional structures, Small Talk Kills Me more often than not eschews familiar formulas for unusual comminglings of electronic and acoustic elements. Pianos, harps, and harmonicas bubble to the surface throughout, but Kealoha more typically constrains dispersive fields of electronic noises with the familiar pluck of acoustic guitars. In the first part of “Jolly Kclitt,” for example, whirrs and clicks morph into a loping pulse of throbs and clatter, until a simple acoustic guitar melody imposes a greater semblance of order in the second. There's a loose and explorative feel to the material that suggests a less rambunctious Oval (meanderings of flute and soft voice fragments in “Frown and Be Happy” recall So , Markus Popp's collab with singer Eriko Toyoda); the jittery, writhing pulses of “5/4 Swansong,” on the other hand, recall Autechre.

One of the more interesting things about Small Talk Kills Me is its trajectory. We move from “Quarter Smile,” a lulling setting of loping melancholia, to the restrained soul-jazz tropes of “Kilter,” then on to “Calm Laid Her Head to Have a Nightmare” which lightly floats gentle harp patterns over subtle traces of electronic flutter (though, as the title suggests, its peaceful sleep is eventually disturbed, specifically by churning industrial noise). As it approaches its middle, the album subtly gravitates towards more accessible territory until it pulls back again with “The Deme Theatre,” all woozy swirls of off-key vocalizing and warped squelches. Interestingly too, the title track (“Before You Say Anything, Small Talk Kills Me”) isn't aggressive at all but a placid meditation of gently lapping guitars and voice murmurs. If Small Talk Kills Me occasionally calls to mind other artists' styles, it more often than not surprises by pursuing not one but a large number of off-kilter directions.

November 2005