Review Summary: nightmare fuel
It’s difficult to know how to start writing about Kirby’s absurdly ambitious Everywhere at the End of Time. How many concept albums can you say you’ve listened to that span a whopping six hours and thirty minutes? It’s an arduous enough endeavour to merely find time in a day to listen to it uninterrupted, let alone endure the terrifying depths it plumbs. It should be said right off the bat that this is not an easy-listening experience, nor is it something you’re likely to walk away from feeling good about. Like a bone-chilling horror movie you rashly watch right before bed, it lingers in the back of your mind afterwards as you try to replace it with positive thoughts. This may all sound like a misdirect given the review score for this album, but it’s an album that demands you be in the right headspace to fully appreciate.
For the uninitiated, Leyland Kirby, known as The Caretaker, is a very niche electronic artist who repurposes old creepy-sounding Dixieland ballroom songs by adding his own blend of dark ambient, vintage vinyl crackles and other production tricks. His music possesses this paradoxical quality of being simultaneously nostalgic and deeply unsettling. Maybe it’s that famous haunted ballroom scene from The Shining and how old-timey music features prominently in horror pictures, or maybe it’s just how we look back on history nearly forgotten that lends to the inherent creepiness of old samples from the ‘30s. Whatever it is, Kirby has elevated it to the next level on Everywhere at the End of Time. EatEoT is a collection of 6 albums spanning 3 years worth of work, cataloguing the different stages of dementia from Stage 1, where memories are still intact but by Stage 3 something is perceptibly not quite right, all the way to Stage 6, an abyssal zone of low drones and walls of staticky white noise as the protagonist is now far beyond the post-confusion stage and nearly dead. It’s an incredibly lofty ambition, but how effective is it?
The deterioration of the mind for dementia sufferers is usually a very gradual decay, and that’s reflected quite well in this project’s glacial pacing. Over the span of the first 3 albums and nearly as many hours, things sound mostly coherent, albeit getting progressively more disjointed and sunken as time passes. This is especially discernible in “Libet Delay”, a track lifted from An Empty Bliss Beyond This World. A once gorgeous melody now unrecognizably woozy and defeated. The third album employs a more cavernous sound overall with the actual music feeling further away from the listener, as though it could become consumed by the ambience surrounding it - and indeed that is what happens as the album moves into Stage 4. One of the album’s only failings is in its sequencing, as Stage 4 marks a jarring departure from the previous 3 albums. This could have been easily remedied by starting off with the standard pre-war samples and quickly drowning them out in ambience, but it’s a minor gripe and something the listener adjusts to after a short time. Gone are the conventions of songwriting now. From this point onward tracks clock in at roughly 30 minutes a piece, with albums 4, 5 and 6 containing only 12 songs between them. The rest of the ride is suffocatingly bleak and nightmarish, culminating in an impenetrable fog of ambience on the 6th and final album, one with song titles as disconcerting as “Long Decline is Over” and “Place in the World Fades Away”. In parts 4 and 5 the attentive listener will be able to parse out some barely audible melodies from earlier movements, buried very deep beneath the surface. It’s for this reason that EatEoT is best enjoyed in its entirety as it has continuity payoffs like those fleeting moments of lucidity.
It’s inevitable that the question “Why make or listen to this?” will arise. Why would anyone want to experience dementia by proxy? It's a terrible thing. And is it even possible to achieve something within that ballpark anyway? Without subscribing to the creepy-pasta Internet culture obsessed with hyperbole, EatEoT does possess a sort of disturbing quality to disorient the listener and make them question what they’re hearing. You aren’t going to suddenly forget your place in this world as you listen to this, but there is something hypnotic and unsettling about the whole experience that has the potential to really resonate with the right audience. It’s undeniable though that the biggest criticism one could find with this project is in its aesthetic merits. Mileage will vary greatly between listeners, especially when considering that EatEoT is by and large an album that appeals more to morbid curiosity than anything else. If you’re the type of person who can’t peel your eyes away from tragedy - the type of person who actively looks to be frightened and disturbed - you’re going to find a lot to love about Kirby’s opus. Another point of contention for some may be that in the process of transforming this album from a collection of ballroom samples to an ambient wall of paranoia and confusion, Kirby loses a bit of the identity that makes him such a niche artist, falling more in line with his glitch and noise electronic contemporaries. Such criticisms seem trivial when the final package is this haunting and (ironically) unforgettable, however.