The Caretaker Everywhere at the end of time - Stage 4

[History Always Favours The Winners; 2018]

Styles: deep well, burning memory
Others: do I know you?

An empty bliss beyond this world. Titled as such, Leyland Kirby’s breakthrough work in his ongoing study of dementia as The Caretaker announced itself not only as an object of horror, but as one concerned with infinite, impossible beauty. Lined with looping, weathered ballroom recordings buried beneath a veil of cavernous hiss, Kirby’s music pierced directly through the fear and confusion of losing one’s mind to unearth a surprising, strangely comforting aura of calm. It was the sound of serenity hidden inside a treasure chest in the attic, unlocked only once the cobwebs had been brushed away, and all that remained in the absence of any sense of self were the brief rushes of feeling that come from hearing that old song again for the first time in so long.

Memory has haunted Leyland Kirby’s work all the way back to his pop music-destroying days as V/Vm, and like one of his songs, he just can’t seem to escape this endless loop of interrogating the ways in which our minds decay with age. Everywhere at the end of time, his in-progress series replicating the gradual onset of dementia in biannual installments, has so far seen Kirby procuring complements and variations on his past work. While Stage 1 amplified An empty bliss’s pleasant, waltzing sense of pomp, the second and third stages found Kirby slightly tweaking his musical snippets to reveal their frayed ends and otherworldly undercurrent of dread. With Stage 4, however, The Caretaker has broken the loop. Lined with four completely formless 20+ minute tracks that tear at the seams of Kirby’s 78-sampling approach, the fourth installment of Everywhere at the end of time is the most immersive, unsettling album that The Caretaker has produced since An empty bliss. In diving deeper into his own refracted world of memory than ever before, Kirby has managed to uncover an overwhelmingly opaque new dimension as desolate and terrifying as it is soothing.

Unlike Kirby’s previous work, which often dealt with the sublime through hollowed, echoing space, Stage 4 creates a raw sensory overload pieced together from distended fragments of melody and countless layers of distortion. Presented as the first “Post-Awareness” stage in the dementia process, the vinyl-side-long pieces dive directly into an ever-shifting palette of textures that effectively destroy whatever shaky ground earlier Caretaker albums built with their nostalgic, vaguely familiar big band numbers. Kirby’s signature horn samples become sliced up and reconfigured into disturbing new shapes, or stretched to their absolute limit like pale branches reaching skyward out of a murky bog. And whereas surface noise has previously operated as a ghostly lens with which to perceive The Caretaker’s blatantly lifted recordings, here it transforms into the music’s primary driving force, pushing the pieces in all directions at once with vivid, cacophonous force. The effect is engrossing, a symbolic decay of comprehension giving way to an endless stream of pure consciousness, each sound nigh indistinguishable from any other, a mass of ruptured, glowing darkness.

Part of Everywhere at the end of time’s resounding effect comes from the physical passage of time that Kirby has imposed over its release. Although Stage 4 is jarring, the fact that it comes after a full year and a half of episodes lends a material feeling of aging to the project, its real-time transformation into an unknowable abyss casting a beckoning shadow toward the end of all existence that we each face. Listening to this album is an anxious experience, and yet what’s so striking about Kirby’s music is how he’s able to express this confusion and despair in such euphoric ways, creating surging currents of sound that glide endlessly above oblivion, gazing at the void without giving into it. In its drowning, there is a shaking reminder of what it is to be alive, an image not of decay but of an ultimate becoming, a freeing unto, truly, “an empty bliss beyond this world.” In spite of its blurry visage, Stage 4 finds The Caretaker rejecting nothingness, collapsing the fear of death into an all-encompassing object of life hurtling through the chaotic unknown. Even in the face of obliterating dissolve, Leyland Kirby finds music.

Of course, real dementia isn’t an ethereal bath of song. Patients describe the affliction as frustrating and unnerving, especially during the periods where the disease has only begun setting in. Stages 1 through 3 of Everywhere at the end of time have depicted the process first as an unravelling scroll, then as a wilting flower, then as a vase spilling out into ripples of disorder. Stage 4, meanwhile, presents a human form in the ashes of this dissolution. From the heart of death, a new life emerges, albeit one whose face we can’t see. From a distance, they seem to be smiling. Sometimes seeing people who’ve fallen completely under the cloak of Alzheimer’s feels like watching an innocent child. Their words often don’t make sense, and their moods seem to dance about with whatever is happening around them. Sometimes, they seem peaceful. I hope it’s peaceful.

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

Most Read