The Caretaker: An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
History Always Favors the Winners

Close your eyes while listening to The Caretaker's An Empty Bliss Beyond This World and don't be surprised if you find yourself transported onto the danceroom floor of the Overlook Hotel as the music evokes a time-weathered scene of tuxedo-clad men and elegantly coiffed women waltzing to the serenading sounds of a ballroom orchestra. The needle skips along the gouged surfaces of “An Empty Bliss Beyond This World,” suggestive of fleeting sensory impressions that flicker and then just as quickly disappear, while a song such as “Libet's Delay” finds the ghost of Errol Garner rising from the music as the pianist momentarily breaks into an elegant run against the lush backing of a ballroom orchestra before tackling “Misty” one more time. The music at times recalls the respective orchestras of Count Basie and Duke Ellington in their earliest days, with both capable of making their listeners swoon to their ballad renditions.

Are these newly generated simulations by James Leyland Kirby of imaginary vinyl recordings from the 1930s exhumed from an attic's dust-covered crate or are they actual recordings he's modified further via looping and adding additional crackling sounds associated with erosion ( there's some hint that the sounds were sourced from Kirby's personal collection of 78s)? Regardless, it's light years removed from the work the Berlin-based experimental artist issued as part of V/VM, though it's less removed from the haunted contents of his mesmerizing 2009 opus, the triple-disc Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was. Both that work and the latest release are ruminations of a kind on themes of memory and time, in the latter case of how time affects memory and of how it's robbed, in particular, by Alzheimer's.

One of the inspirational springboards for the release is the notion that Alzheimer's patients retain a deep-seated connection to songs from their distant past, despite the crippling memory loss brought about by the condition. As such, it's easy to imagine the album's fifteen songs as being the kind of material commonly played in a lounge filled with long-time sufferers of the disease. In keeping with the memory loss associated with Alzheimer's, Kirby not only repeats material within a given song but even repeats whole songs in a couple of cases (“Mental Caverns without Sunshine” and “An Empty Bliss Beyond This World” both appear twice) as if to reflect the patient's vanishing hold on events experienced mere moments ago. Other track titles, such as “Moments of Sufficient Lucidity,” “The Great Hidden Sea of the Unconscious,” “I Feel As If I Might Be Vanishing,” and “Bedded Deep in Long Term Memory,” likewise capture the notion of darkness gradually consuming what was once an active inner world. In addition, each song segues without pause into the one following in a way that parallels the fractured sense of time and continuity experienced by the Alzheimer's patient. In some cases, the surface textures are so pronounced they almost eclipse the music itself ; the crackle and pops are so thick during “A Relationship with the Sublime,” for instance, that only the barest outline of the piano can be heard. Taken on its own terms, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World is a captivating work, and in the final analysis, though the album is a curio of sorts, it's nevertheless one not without its own unique set of charms.

August 2011