4 May 2017

The Caretaker - Everywhere At The End Of Time, Stage Two

What more fitting way is there for a project themed on memory to end, than for said memories to slowly wither into the ether. The Caretaker's lifespan is drawing to a close, and it's even beginning to become clear for those without a press release at hand. A malignant unease is seeping in, the spectral haunting that defined James Leyland Kirby's output - under his Caretaker moniker - is gradually becoming claustrophobic, the memories once looked upon as a source of comfort are now cause for concern, what the character clings onto whilst the remainder of his world drifts away.

The second stage of his six part album - Everywhere At The End Of Time - continues its thematic arc, encapsulating the experience of those who undergo early onset dementia. Stage One could feasibly have passed for some unaltered lost stash of big band LP's, their crackly content worn through heaps of dust and their musky surroundings, whereas throughout the run-time of Stage Two, we find the editing process rising far more clearly to the foreground, its intrusive presence forever changing our relationship with the weathered music that it draws from.

On opener, A losing battle is raging, a sound is transmitted which is of a similarly engulfing magnitude to Oneohtrix Point Never's Andro - the track that began his masterful 2011 LP Replica. Temporally, both pieces share that discombobulated nature; rushes of hiss and fuzz, projecting an overcast, unclear horizon; whilst the sampled brass functions in a similar manner to OPN's signature synth work, not strictly nostalgic, but still injecting lost hauntological ghosts into the fabric of their respective sounds.

With The Caretaker, unlike others in the hauntological field, there's a sense that the work is less bogged down or dependent upon academic accompaniment - instead left to fester in a state of uncanny mystique. Whose past is this anyway? With say, The Focus Group, there's a collective nostalgia for post-war futurism, public funding, strange television with an equally strange sonic accompaniment. This was all experienced first hand by the art's creator, then conceptualised, almost made into melancholic swansong for an era where such things felt possible.

For The Caretaker, this pre-war music was not experienced first hand, instead, a cognitive association is being played with; there is, after all, perhaps no music which better signifies the past and fading memory, then the swing and big band styles of the 20s, 30s and 40s. It's an association steadily gaining momentum, most famously through Stanley Kubrick's classic The Shining - it's closing scene actually being partial impetus for The Caretaker project - but also stretching out to television, and even video games like the post apocalyptic Fallout and Bioshock series, fermenting its position as a ghost music; the sound of environments now stripped of human residency, just traces of their former grandeur left.    

In terms of ideas relating to former grandeur, Misplaced in time is undoubtedly the purest distillation throughout the album. The jaunty remnants are all clearly there, but sit uncomfortably with each other, all the more disturbing due to the melodic lines which should fall naturally, but instead lilt and falter - certain segments protruding in the mix, whilst others residing to vapour. Glimpses of hope in trying times opts for a different tactic; with the grandeur attempting to sweep in and overcome impending melancholia, sonically encapsulating the frantic struggle to retain your past, a battle which tragically cannot be won.

Hints do begin to emerge that his long term memory shows similar signs of degradation, recalling an outburst from Paul Thomas Anderson's 2012 film, The Master, where the charismatic charlatan Lancaster Dodd erupts with the claim that "our past has been reshapen, perverted." Of course, in this instance - unlike the film - it is the increasing unreliability of human memory that will pervert the past, as what what once represented stability becomes rapidly more disjointed.

As an artist, Kirby has a long history of mischief and tampering, one that can be traced back to his days under the V/VM moniker. One notorious example of his pennant towards perverse behaviour, was the bizzaro V/VM album Sick Love, which took his plunderphonic escapades to newly absurd highs, essentially creating grotesquely misformed, chopped and screwed-esque, reinterpretations of popular love songs - some of the most infamous being Robbie Williams' Angels and a deeply unnerving take on Chris De Burgh's Lady in red.

After years of purposely making noise music - with a partial intent being aggravation - The Caretaker as a whole, and especially this latest album run, represents how multifaceted Kirby is as an artist, able provoke repulsion and awe as he chooses. Talking to The Quietus back in 2011, Kirby admitted that "Instead of smashing something apart, I'm going to make something much more beautiful now." It's this duality, the desire to be both destructive and constructive, and the ability to unearth something truly worthwhile from both tendencies.

With Everywhere at the the end of time - stages one and two - James Leyland Kirby has created some of the most affecting and spellbinding music of his career. As the album run continues, The Caretaker's form is set to fully unravel, ghosts of the project's past due to rise from the murky depths, before an increasingly abstract, nonsensical haze, clouds its demise. Despite the devastating subject matter, the experience is peerless, revealing a great deal of supposedly 'haunted' music to be fleeting and emotionally depthless.


(Words: Eden Tizard)