Leyland Kirby's work under The Caretaker has always been a sort of paradox, his simplest but most challenging music. Simple in that it's often lightly touched samples of old ballroom recordings, and challenging in well... that it's sometimes only those things. His latest album, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, is almost overbearingly depressive despite the dry wit of its spiritually defeated song titles. The album, conceptual as ever, explores the triggering of memories through song as filtered through the experiences of Alzheimer's patients who can retain recordings longer than many other aspects of their memories. It's this theme that runs a current of almost sinister, creeping dread through the otherwise unassuming music.
Things start off "All You're Going to Want to Do Is Get Back There," a soothing waltz all resonant frequencies and squawking horns, and the cyclical vinyl crackle sounds like waves lapping at the shore. The device lends the album a curious "island getaway" setting, adding to the rustic pastoralism but also resembling the sort of unreachable oasis these recordings signify for their imagined target audience. The album continues in this vein for most of its duration, dipping into periods of quieter near-silence. On the free-floating "I Feel As If I Might Be Vanishing," with each hypnotic loop a layer of sound is evaporated until it leaves no trace behind. When the album returns to its melodic overtures, they're grand, little glints of hope that are tragically cut off by the halting endings Kirby slices through these recordings. Again it's a simplistic device, but one so horrifyingly effective it's hard to feel anything but awestruck.
The album's midsection is its most haunting, as the crackle of worn 78s begins to overcome the music altogether. The feeling of confusion is compounded by the repetition of tracks, as snippets of other songs find their way in between parts of the title track and "Mental Caverns Without Sunshine." The album finds its way back to that tropical resort with "Camaraderie at Arms Length," where big band music is smudged to dream-pop extremes, but again that brief glimpse of rare lucidity is tragically cut short, ceding to the woozy and mournful refrain of "The Sublime Is Disappointingly Elusive."
So many other functionally "ambient" albums get lost in their own delusions of grandeur vis a vis elaborate concepts, but An Empty Bliss Beyond This World is an exception. While the record is certainly appreciable on purely musical terms—this is evocative, heart-tugging stuff—when knowledge of Kirby's intent lurks underneath the damaged acetate grooves, it becomes something else entirely: A poignant interrogation of memory loss and aging.
Tracklist: The Caretaker - An Empty Bliss Beyond This World01. All You're Going to Want to Do Is Get Back There
02. Moments of Sufficient lucidity
03. The Great Hidden Sea of the Unconscious
04. Libet's Delay
05. I Feel As If I Might Be Vanishing
06. An Empty Bliss Beyond this World
07. Bedded Deep in Long Term Memory
08. A Relationship with the Sublime
09. Mental Caverns Without Sunshine
10. Pared Back to the Minimal
11. Mental Caverns without Sunshine
12. An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
13. Tiny Gradiations of Loss
14. Camaraderie at Arms Length
15. The Sublime Is Disappointingly Elusive
Other History Always Favours The Winners reviews