An Empty Bliss

Collected Works: Music


An Empty Bliss Beyond This World

by The Caretaker

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A vibrato-heavy violin winds its way through a long, directionless melody. Distant strains of lugubrious horns accompany its meandering journey. Overlaying comforting, repeated chord patterns is a filigree of hiss, crackle, and reverberation. Sepia-toned images materialise in our mind’s eye, of crinoline-drenched parlours, slow dancers, and analogue radios. Even if we are hearing these old tunes for the first time, an illusion of immediate familiarity persists.

The Caretaker, a project of electronic musician James Leyland Kirby, is named after the haunted ballroom sequence in The Shining. It is certainly an apt alias, given Kirby’s tendency to sweep the cobwebs away from aged recordings. Dusting off the jackets of vinyls, he presents them to us anew. The pieces that he samples are ostensibly cheerful, but he draws out the disturbing undertones beneath the scratched surface, creating uncanny works that carry tinges of melancholy.

The boundary between real and false recollection is repeatedly blurred. Many musical elements are looped, with entire tracks surreptitiously reiterated to compound the sense of déjà vu. The division between original and reworking remains just as fuzzy; it is unclear which imperfections have been added and which were always present. The product is a sense of synthetic nostalgia, a longing for the past heard, even if it is all but unknown to us.

An Empty Bliss Beyond This World was influenced by the responses of Alzheimer’s patients to the music of their youth. The album offers insight into how it may feel to lose a sense of selfhood and identity. Sequences of harmonies dissolve, fading from our grasp. Passed through a filter, the parlour songs are transformed into lingering memories of nothing at all. Faced with deterioration, they simply slip away, quietly, into darkness.

Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe

More to discover

You can listen to 'All You Are Going To Want To Do Is Get Back There' here, and watch a fanmade video for 'Libet's Delay' here. Joe Davenport has interviewed James Leyland Kirby (a.k.a. The Caretaker) for Tiny Mix Tapes, as has Rory Gibb for The Quietus.

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