Review: The Caretaker — “Everywhere at the end of time”

Leyland Kirby’s Caretaker project has been active for 2 decades at this point. The core of the project is heavily inspired by the imagery of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, specifically the ballroom episodes. The idea of haunting sounds echoing from the 1920s is a very pleasing notion that manages to hit a brand of artificial nostalgia for the decaying past.

Leyland James Kirby The Caretaker. Photo by Anders Bigum
photo: Anders Bigum

Dance Around Dementia

Further on, Kirby managed to incorporate the concept of deteriorating mental illness into the image, especially with his major breakthrough entitled “An Empty Bliss Beyond This World”. This is a stepping stone for everything that has been released by The Caretaker since then, most notably the 6 volume compilation titled “Everywhere at the end of time” that was finalized this year.

“Everywhere at the end of time” is centered around dementia. With each progressing stage, the listener is given a depressing look into a real-life nightmare that affects millions of people worldwide every year. The first three volumes seem to be dealing with the onset, while the last three are delving into the complete loss.

The volumes begin with sounds that are similar to the ballroom nostalgia of “An Empty Bliss Beyond This World”, even borrowing some source material from the 2011 release. These first 3 volumes might give a new listener an understanding of what Kirby is renowned for.

Pre-War Atmosphere

Instead of composing and performing the instrumental core of the recordings, The Caretaker takes lost and forgotten recordings from the pre-war records and concentrates on their presentation. He arranges the recordings in different ways, plays a lot with the playback effects and gives the listener an experience of simultaneous nostalgic melancholia and melodic pleasure.

The concept might sound cheap, but the way Kirby integrates the same snippets in completely different arrangements is what makes him the master of presentation. After the first two volumes, the picture begins to turn slightly more lo-fi, has less drive to it. The crackles, that spend a substantial time disintegrating the music earlier, tend to saturate the recording even more.

The fourth volume goes through an even more drastic shift. The song format switches from disintegrating minutes into an eternity of confusion. A chaotic mess of bits and pieces that are still recognizable, yet dispersed like shards of a broken mirror. This is where Kirby truly shines.

The ambient drones have a deep sense of melancholy and sadness that doesn’t go away throughout the entire 3 disc duration. The main audible change in between the discs is the slow breakdown of the chaos that turns into never-ending, shapeless drones.

End of Melancholia

At the end of it, all is a hollow void with elements of terror and, surprisingly, beauty. In the finale of the last stage, there is a sudden halt to the oblivion. The ambient delirium is replaced with heavenly singing and a silver piano. The full bliss and complete disconnect with the external world is reached. Nothing matters anymore. Nothing is all that’s left.

James Leyland Kirby bandcamp
photo: Bandcamp

“Everywhere at the end of time” managed to cover every single element of its subject matter. The entire 6 stage project is sublime. No stone is left unturned, which is why The Caretaker officially announced his retirement, effective immediately after the release of the final stage. He will be missed.

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