The Caretaker - Everywhere at the End of Time: Stage 6 [History Always Favours the Winners - 2019]Here it is. Twenty years after his first release, Leyland Kirby has finally decided to hang up his tuxedo and bring the Caretaker project to a close. With the steady release of each of the six stages of Everywhere at the End of Time the last two and half years have been something of a farewell tour for a project which has become - along with Burial - the quintessential expression for what has come to be known as "hauntological" music. That tour even took in a "live performance" at London's Barbican; a sign of the esteem that this once wilfully obscure project is now held in.
What began with an extended riff on that famous ballroom scene in Kubrick's The Shining grew in depth and complexity to encompass poignant meditations on memory function and cognitive degeneration. The project's basic methodological move is processing old 78 speed records; records which we should remember were produced prior to both the cultural revolution of the 1960s and the neoliberal takeover that followed it. 2012's Patience (After Selbald) is perhaps the defining expression of an idea of music, which at its best evokes powerful feelings of melancholy, finitude and the contingency of all things. This final stage of the journey into total mental collapse pushes the project to its natural conclusion.
The previous two stages had seen the attempt to depict a mind's slow decent into dementia and dissociation reach the threshold of fragmentation. Sounds were not so much recollected as dissembled and splintered; their remembering triggering sharp bursts of cognitive dissonance and aphasia. For this final instalment Kirby has pushed the envelope even further drawing out the timbres subsumed in those murky recordings almost to infinity, and amplifying the incidental sounds and surface effects that their ancient lineage bequeath to us. The materiality of this set, which stretches to over 80 minutes, is striking from the opening seconds of Confusion so thick you forget forgetting. It's almost all textural, with scarcely a hint of the original sources. The tried and tested dynamic effects which have become Kirby's stock in trade are all here; scattering shards of sound into the middle distance with clever use of reverb, and layering the surface dissonance of the records upon themselves until a fug of swirling analogue hiss threatens to overflow the speakers. Never has he done it as he does here with such desolate results.
Kirby's work has never exactly been cheerful and his overarching sense of doom took a step even further into the dark with 2017's We, So tired of all the darkness in our lives , a 'pay what you like' digital offering that contained some of the best work he's ever recorded, including the beautiful Arvo Pärt courting Tinseltown. Even so, tracks like A Brutal Bliss Beyond this Empty Defeat push even his sense of gloom to new depths. There and on the third side Long Decline is Over some hint of the original recorded sources begin to filter through, but only by way of thousand yard reverbs and massive time stretches, in keeping with the notion of mental dissolution nothing appears as it should. The brass sounds like a death knell called out from the top of a distant peak ,out across the wilderness of a broken mind that can no longer recognise the call. The briefest appearance of piano serves only to heighten the feeling of what has been lost. There is something perhaps of Gavin Bryars The Sinking of the Titanic in these extended, slowly descending elegies.
And so the final farewell, appropriately titled Place in the World Fades Away where we're stripped to the absolute barest materials, which one could hardly even call drone. Each of these four compositions stretches to over twenty minutes, affording ample time to sink beneath the layers of haunted sound prepared by Master Kirby. None more so than this final farewell, which after a few halting surges of washed out reverberation slides into an almost funereal organ dirge. Finally, in a wonderfully contrived denouement, Kirby breaks into the dirge himself, replacing the diaphanous with the purely elegiac in the form of choral singing. If my ear does not deceive me, the beautifully lilting refrains hark back to recordings Kirby originally used on the Caretaker debut in 1999. Memory in full circle. It's the perfect way to end this very unique project. As Kirby wrote in the liner notes of that debut: Daylight fades and shadows fall on the empty ballroom floor which lies faded and jaded, ravaged by the passage of time.