Album: Nelson Kempf – Family Dollar review

by Tobias Moore

Disconcerting, deceptively sinister, and at times hard to listen to, Nelson Kempf’s latest release Family Dollar, is not one for the faint-hearted. But that is all part of its charm.

Laden with oriental influence, the album’s introduction, Sweetness And Strife, is a harp induced hypnosis. Dancing, darting, its welcoming to the listener is one of tender ambiguity; it greets you with a painted smile. Yet as the atmosphere develops, and the instrumentation warps, the world of fantasy Kempf has crafted fragments in front of your eyes.

A tour guide to his tracks, Kempf’s vocal interjections come as a soothing release amongst the intensity of the record. A kaleidoscope of sound, Kempf’s ability to flip, with such ease, from a world of paradise to something disturbingly dystopian is remarkable. His judgment of paradoxical balance demands respect. Scoped with the detail of a feature-length film, and written between the rolling hills of Tennessee and the arctic tundras of Alaska, it’s clear to see where Kempf drew his influence from: His personal experience.

And it is these influences that burn bright throughout. Written as a meditation on the hypocrisies of modern life, it’s clear to see the detachment from life Kempf has endured. From the Jekyll and Hyde harmonics of Hourglass, to the textual versions of the title track, the album is a living embodiment of the innate sufferings Kempf has encountered over the past decade.

Indicative of the pernicious, yet cyclic nature of humanity, the album is true experimentation; a swirl of sonic extremities. Developing from a typically folk orientated musician to something far more radical, it’s a change Kempf has found forced upon him, but a change that has paid dividends.

It’s important not to forget, however, Family Dollar is also immensely dreamy at points. Once past the interjections of static, through meticulous samples, Kempf lays clear indicators of the humanity that has kept his fire burning amongst the chaos. Children’s voices run wild amongst the piece’s somber tapestry, acting as a guiding light, and an insight into the developments of Kempf’s life. It’s through these brief, fleeting moments, you see his world through sanguine glasses. The interjections of innocence offer a chance for respite, a chance to recharge – a chance to once again appreciate the smaller things in life.

A deeply honest account of his life, this is an collection you must throw yourself into to truly appreciate. One you must become consumed by. Isolated within. A metamorphosis of human emotion: the hurt and suffering exposed throughout is painful, yet a hopeful sign of new beginnings for Kempf.

Subtle in its trauma, Family Dollar is an electronic exploration of modern humanity. Finding an often overlooked beauty in darkness, it is a stark presentation of the suffering that goes unheard in amongst the churning monotony of everyday life. However, it is far more than that. Immensely personal, through Family Dollar, Kempf has bared his hurt for all to see, and rekindled embers of hope that had appeared long gone. In doing so, Kempf has rediscovered what it is that matters most to him. He has found his ‘moment of calm’.

Secret Meeting score: 76

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