Sadly... picks up from where Kirby left off with his Caretaker project and its equally immense 6 CD box set Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia, which reworked old ballroom tracks from the interwar years. Here as well as there, the binding theme is memory and decay over time. But whereas the previous works were sample-based and designed to simulate states of amnesia or partial memory loss—an effect compounded by the lack of track titles and looping effects—Sadly... approaches memory from an alternative perspective. Here, all the source material is from Kirby himself, and is designed to be introspective and emotionally intense, a point reflected in the poetic track titles. It's a soundtrack to someone lost in thought and peering inwards at the ghosts of memory and self.
The dominant instrument is piano, with many tracks based around runs of simple melodies and clusters of notes, at times plucked and at others stabbed dramatically as if in regret. Comparisons have been made with Satie, but Kirby's playing is much more physical and impassioned, especially given the fact that the notes are delivered in great churning gulfs of space such as on the mournful "Memories Live Longer Than Dreams" or the anguished hope of the closing track "And At Dawn..." Comparisons have also been made with Angelo Badalamenti and Brian Eno with a measure of Ennio Morricone, such as on "And As I Sat Beside You…," and William Basinski on "The Sound of Our Music Vanishing." Although suggestive, these references don't tell the whole story, though, as there are also plenty of textures and futuristic sounds reminiscent of current electronica. The roaring haze of "A Longing to Be Absorbed…" wouldn't sound astray on a Flying Lotus album for example.
But the power of Sadly... is not the simple use of piano to tug at the heartstrings. Rather, it's the way that the keyboards interact with the background to create a misty-eyed view, as though you're staring at a pointillist interpretation of a Rothko painting. Notes spiral and wander, but never inform, never reveal, while the hazy background always seems to triumph in erasing certainty and clarity.
Several detractors of Sadly... have complained about the monumental size and the overwhelming density of the work. Although this is an understandable criticism, it is also to miss the point. Sadly... can work like a classic ambient piece and be used as sonic wallpaper in the background, even if the immensity of the moods and the sustained sense of longing have the tendency to change the room itself. Similarly, the length of individual tracks, with many clocking in at over 15 minutes, means they can be difficult to absorb without patience or the right frame of mind. But like side-long prog rock jams, these long, slow twilight cascades can be used as an alternative head space or a kind of shelter within the moment, since each one contains a sense of the grandeur of time as if reflecting the whole work in miniature.
The fact that Sadly... has had a convoluted history, beginning as a handful of tracks to become an immense obra maestra with multiple formats, different versions and limited downloads could suggest the work of uncertainty or quantity over quality. Yet despite the homogeneity in mood, the set is rich in ideas and textures, and is actually intensely focused and robustly heroic while managing to convey a profound emotional reach without resorting to cheap or tired sentimentality. It's one of the most haunting albums you'll hear all year.
Thu / 31 Dec 2009
CD 1: When We Parted, My Heart Wanted To Die
1-1 When We Parted, My Heart Wanted to Die (Friedrichshain Memory)
1-2 The Sound of Music Vanishing
1-3 The Beauty of the Impending Tragedy of My Existence
1-4 And As I Sat Beside You I Felt the Great Sadness That Day
1-5 Tonight Is the Last Night of the World
1-6 To the Place Between the Twilight and the Dawn
CD 2: Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was
2-1 When Did Our Dreams And Futures Drift So Far Apart ?
2-2 Not Even Nostalgia Is As Good As It Used to Be
2-3 Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was
2-4 Stay Light, There Is a Rainbow a Coming
2-5 And Nothing Comes Between the Sadness and the Scream
2-6 I've Hummed This Tune to All the Girls I've Known
2-7 Not As She Is Now But As She Appears in My Dreams
CD 3: Memories Live Longer Than Dreams
3-1 Memories Live Longer Than Dreams
3-2 Don't Sleep I Am Not What I Seem, I'm a Very Quiet Storm
3-3 A Longing to Be Absorbed for a While Into a Different and Beautiful World
3-4 Days in the Wilderness
3-5 Stralauer Peninsula
3-6 We All Won That Day, Sunshine
3-7 And At Dawn Armed with Glowing Patience, We Will Enter the Cities of Glory (Stripped)