The Caretaker: An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
Published: June 8, 2011
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
History Always Favours the Winners
One of the more undersung joys in listening to music is being utterly confounded by something. And what James Leyland Kirby does as the Caretaker is indeed utterly confounding. Part of that is not being conventionally weird—hardly the contradiction it sounds—but being a very strange sort of familiar. Which isn’t to suggest that you have some deep, intimate connection with the particular vintage ballroom songs sourced on the record—which is just those, manipulated with a surgeon’s touch into near-atmosphere—but that you quite likely have a connection with that sound, those bright band waltzes spiraling out of an old phonograph horn for the gentlemen and ladies of mythic Victorian history. Perhaps that’s another way of saying the ballroom sound and all of its upper-crust images live today in some large part within the realm of cliche.
Which is another sort of memory, and the sort of carved-in memory that Kirby is interested in on An Empty Bliss Beyond This World. The record’s press notes explain that its inspiration comes from new Alzheimer’s research and the discovery that in patients with severe memory loss, the distant past is still recoverable, courtesy of the last-to-go prefrontal cortex. And that sort of memory recovery sounds rather like dream recall, strange and ethereal and not quite real, a vibe that the Caretaker shepherds in a truly bizarre and perfect way with his excavated song clips. They are just clips too, not whole songs, and they sometimes cut off abruptly, leaving you not really longing for whatever was to come next, but more hanging weightless at the song’s edge. Savoring.
There is, fortunately, an artwork beyond conception here. Much like William Basinski and his found strips of magnetic audio tape, the Caretaker is taking an active role, however perceptible: The end of this phrase may echo a little extra, or you’re left to sink into and out of reverb (used so carefully it may well be the last of it on Earth), and sometimes you’re just bobbing almost entirely in record hiss and crackle. The net effect is of being a bystander in one of the haunted ballrooms of the Overlook Hotel, and it’s pure genius. Unlikely but grand.
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