Review Summary: The haunting echo of forgotten ballrooms, as revealed through the surface noises of antique phonographs and lost realities.
When I first heard about James Leyland Kirby's ambient project The Caretaker, it was one of the most intriguing reads I'd ever had. I had read that his music was heavily inspired by the ballroom scene in The Shining, one of my personal favorites. That particular sequence is striking. The way Kubrick framed those shots, slowly panning through the ballroom; it was like a moment through haunted history. How utterly atmospheric that scene is. It still manages to make me grin like Alex DeLarge whenever I think about it. Then, to hear about an artist who makes music that develops on that very thought? That just completely blew me away.
The Caretaker's latest took me back to that scene, but also somewhere else altogether. There is a constant theme at play, beyond taking old ballroom 78s and giving them a ghostly accent, these fifteen tracks represent lost musical memories. Described as distant memories of Alzheimer's patients who can recall musical recordings longer than they can other memories, it's a conception that brings a passionate heaviness to the music. These songs aren't just dark spaces of American history, but the fading memories of the people of that history.
Kirby paints that concept beautifully through the cracked frame of his cobweb stricken canvas. Songs end abruptly due to the sweeping of memory from consciousness, something an Alzheimer's patient would likely experience. Whether these memories appear as dark piano halls, forgotten ballrooms, or distant concerts, the result is stunning. To bring concept furthermore, individual songs are broken up through the track listing to give a sense of fractured logic, proving that a memory can appear at any time.
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World completely redefines what "Ambient" music can be and how far it can go. You can hear vinyl crack like rain, you can hear the deep resonance of hollowed pianos, and you can hear real distance within the music. Sounds that are so far away, yet so close. When horns appear, it's some of the most sublime and entrancing sounds I've ever heard, particularly under the delayed keys of 'Libet's Delay' and the closing track. When I listen to a song like 'A relationship with the sublime', I can stare at a wall and make it feel like it's the most important part of my day. It's entrancing, emotional, and timeless music that anyone with two ears and an affection for the past can get lost into.