The Caretaker
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World


3.5
great

Review

by Iai EMERITUS
November 29th, 2011 | 68 replies


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Dixieland jazz meets inner-city depression in one of the year's most beguiling albums.

Moreso than any other album I've heard in 2011, this leaves me wondering exactly how I'm meant to react.

On the most basic level, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World is an album of turntable music pieced together from a patchwork of polite, downbeat jazz samples from the Dixieland era. That might not sound so interesting, but no description can really do justice to how alien this whole thing feels. A number of commentators across the web, particularly those who (like me) have no prior experience of The Caretaker's work, mention the Bioshock soundtrack, and that's as good a reference point as you'll get - although it's pulled together from very dated samples (even the people you know who listen to jazz probably don't listen to anything like the records sampled here, which are closer to '40s Disney cartoon soundtracks than the Mingus/Coltrane/Davis axis), it sounds decidedly retrofuturistic, and oddly spacey. The conflict between both the distant past and the imagined future that the album conjures is similar to Lucia Pamela's cult classic Into Outer Space, but this has none of the wackiness or humour - it's downright depressing at times.

And that's where the next set of comparisons come in, and where it gets odder still. Nobody would associate Lucia Pamela or the Bioshock soundtrack (or probably even Dixieland jazz itself) with late-night depression, regret and recrimination, but that's squarely where An Empty Bliss Beyond This World aims itself - at a niche of feeling also occupied by the likes of Burial, Four Tet, Mogwai, and Morphine at their most gloomy. It exists in a claustrophobic, world-weary headspace, and it's constantly haunted by the spectre of death, as the song titles are only too unhappy to confirm - the final track, "The Sublime is Disappointingly Elusive", has a name that hints at a failed suicide attempt, while the likes of "Mental Caverns Without Sunshine", "An Empty Bliss Beyond the World", and "I Feel as If I Might Be Vanishing" don't exactly suggest kittens and ponies and ice cream.

The Caretaker achieves that feeling through some impressively subtle manipulation and recontextualisation. There is lots of crackling, popping, and hissing, which is par for the course when sampling from vinyl recordings as old as these, but that noise is embraced rather than downplayed, and used as just an important part of the overall effect as the melodies and chords are. The melodies themselves, meanwhile, are distorted slightly to make them woozy - this may just be a result of the sources, as aged vinyl tends to have inconsistent timing if not looked after, but it feels too well-judged not to be deliberate. They're also clipped, glitching in and out at random points that disrupt the natural phrasing of the original records; it's notable that the vast majority of the songs here seem to end mid-phrase or mid-bar, disorientating the listener's expectations. The chords, too, are pushed and pulled through their timing, especially on the piano parts that start to dominate the album towards its conclusion.

The wooziness and glitchiness almost makes An Empty Bliss Beyond This World feel like a wordless concept album too. While the early exchanges are fairly lucid, with traditional melodies looped repeatedly over steadily, subtly changing backings in a way that's almost minimalist, things slowly disintegrate over the course of the album to the point where the likes of "Tiny Gradiations of Loss" and the title track are more about noise and glitching than they are about the jazz material they're sampling. If I'm right about the title "The Sublime is Disappointingly Elusive" referring to a failed suicide attempt (or hell, even a successful one - thus making the title even more depressing), then this concept starts to make sense.

Regardless of whether I'm right or not, it speaks volumes of this album's unusual power that I'm even thinking those kind of thoughts. An Empty Bliss Beyond This World has the kind of effect on the listener. It presents two very obvious and very different concepts, one that its source material is often jolly and very dated to the point of arguably being irrelevant to modern ears, and one that its overal feel is very modern (Burial and How to Dress Well have mined similar feelings for urban isolation lately to much acclaim) and very depressing. Those two ideas just don't match at all, and it sends your brain into overdrive trying to figure it all out, trying to work out where the link is between those two extremes is. Exactly where your brain ends up after that is down to you; it'll probably be this, more than anything that decides whether or not you enjoy this. It's certainly worth taking the time to find out, though; I can't think of any other album that sounds and feels quite like this does.



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user ratings (189)
Chart.
3.9
excellent
other reviews of this album
MisterTornado (4.5)
The haunting echo of forgotten ballrooms, as revealed through the surface noises of antique phonogra...



Comments:Add a Comment 
Bloodbirds
November 29th 2011


250 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Sounds brilliant. I'll be definitely checking this out.

Oathbreaker
November 29th 2011


1648 Comments


Great album.

Adash
November 29th 2011


1356 Comments


Didn't realize the staff reviewed old albums. First paragraph is this music in a nutshell

thebhoy
Emeritus
November 29th 2011


4463 Comments


Dixieland you say?

captaincrunch11
November 29th 2011


1496 Comments


Bioshock? insta-download

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
November 29th 2011


16295 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

great album, great review

BallsToTheWall
November 29th 2011


48877 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

don't exactly suggest kittens and ponies and ice cream.



LOL.



Good review.

anarchistfish
November 29th 2011


26687 Comments


I too felt a Bioshock vibe

Iai
Emeritus
November 29th 2011


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Didn't realize the staff reviewed old albums.


It happens from time to time (tends to be me more than anybody else).....right now I'm just trying to make sure all my top 50 for the year have a staff review.

StrangerofSorts
Staff Reviewer
November 29th 2011


2905 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I approach this LP differently than I would another one, for me it's something you dip into every now and again - it's so atmospheric but best taken in small doses.



Good review.

MisterTornado
November 29th 2011


4507 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Hell yes, didn't expect this to get another review. Album's incredible.

Adash
November 30th 2011


1356 Comments


Dear Iai, if you'd be so kind as to review Shed's Shedding the Past then! Too old ye, but god

Releler
November 30th 2011


4 Comments


Good review. I thought the album was very good, but it's probably one I'll admire more than actually listen to. From your review, I sense you agree.

patrickfannon
November 30th 2011


892 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This is in my top 10, for sure. I absolutely love this album.

wabbit
November 30th 2011


7059 Comments


Really really brilliant album and one of my favourite reviews by you ever

i don't listen to this kind of,music nearly as much as i did three years ago but this really floored me. its like the soundtrack to a haunted house when no one is in,it.,

Yotimi
November 30th 2011


7458 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

first sentence is exactly how i feel

chitownflip
October 22nd 2013


173 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is pretty cool, has that "dusty/vintage" feel.

oltnabrick
October 22nd 2013


36140 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

you could say that it makes you want to "buy a bike or walk"

Digging: Delroy Edwards & Dean Blunt - Desert Sessions

MisterTornado
October 22nd 2013


4507 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

train

oltnabrick
October 22nd 2013


36140 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

i bought a train once but i took it back to the store because i didnt have enough money for a track :/



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