Leyland Kirby: Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was
History Always Favours the Winners

Though James Leyland Kirby currently may be best known for work issued under the V/VM and The Caretaker names, that may all change once this remarkable trilogy collection, the first material issued under his birth name, hits the streets. The Berlin-based English producer himself characterizes his Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was as “the soundtrack to a world in decline, the heroism of modern life, a document of loss, an essay in gloom, delivered with a brutally honest appreciation of the pitiful truth”—all of which might suggest that the melodramatic opus is one long and agonized wrist-slitting geared towards plunging listeners down their own personal hell-holes. In actual fact, while there are bleak moments, there are also uplifting ones, so many in fact that the release ends up being considerably more inspiring than depressing. By so deeply exploring his sense of isolation, Kirby ironically establishes powerful connections to listeners fortunate enough to partake of the recording's amplitude. With their melancholy melodies buried under layers of blurry rumble and decay, the tracks might be likened to the haunted songs of restless spirits rising from their graves.

On the first CD, When We Parted My Heart Wanted To Die , the recording's intense emotional tone is established immediately when the stirring opener “When We Parted, My Heart Wanted To Die (Friedrichshain Memories)” presents fifteen minutes of lyrical, Schubert-like piano playing. The music feels wrapped in gauze, as if heard through a scrim, with string accents and field elements swimming alongside the stately melodic trails pursued by the piano. That piece marks the first stage in a sprawling journey that will wend its way through twenty pieces over the course of four hours, marking Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was as one of the year's most ambitious and ultimately rewarding recordings. In its three CDs, field recordings, found sounds, layered drones, piano, and unidentifiable sonic fragments come together to produce a powerfully immersive listening experience. Most of the tracks are long, with some exceeding twenty-minute durations, including “To the Place Between the Twilight And the Dawn,” whose meandering piano melodies, synthetic whooshes, and glass orchestra flourishes combine to form a time-lapse exercise in New Age dreamscaping. Like a mesmerizing trip through the cosmos, the middle CD's “Sadly, the Future is No Longer What it Was” likewise stretches its swollen, synth-heavy tendrils beyond the twenty-minute horizon; buzzing synthetic swarms surge endlessly, their wistful melodies at times assuming a church-like grandeur, while a rumbling undercurrent intensifies the deep space connection.

Not surprisingly, the recording offers ample contrasts in style and dynamics. Sounding as if it was recorded at the center of a cyclone, “The Sound of Music Vanishing” ripples and crackles like a careening noise drone, while its rhythms trudge along like some wounded beast dragging its battered body across the ground. “And As I Sat Beside You I Felt the Great Sadness That Day” presents a lumbering, congealing mass that splinters and combusts into flickering fragments. Disc two, Sadly, the Future is No Longer What it Was, perpetuates the opening third's ghostly ambiance via the hazy mystery of “When Did Our Dreams and Futures Drift So Far Apart?” Single-note piano lines wander through a paradise filled with echoing bell tinkles in “Not Even Nostalgia is as Good As it Used To Be,” while “And Nothing Comes Between the Sadness and the Scream” resembles a faded nursery lullaby grown woozy and sickly over time. The saw-like whistle that courses through the peaceful meditation “I've Hummed This Tune to all the Girls I've Known” voices a wistful tune that's more magisterial elegy than spirited work-song.

Aside from the transporting kosmische musik excursion “A Longing to Be Absorbed For a While Into a Different and Beautiful World,” disc three, Memories Live Longer Than Dreams, largely opts for peaceful settings. Following the New Age prettiness of “Memories Live Longer Than Dreams,” Eno-esque synthesizer warble floats peacefully through a humid solarium during “Stralauer Peninsula,” while simple piano melodies chime against a softly glimmering backdrop in the gentle setting “We All Won That Day, Sunshine.” The recording reaches its final destination with the stately and syrupy sweet “And at Dawn Armed With Glowing Patience, We Will Enter the Cities of Glory (Stripped).” 

In essence, Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was presents three discs of elegiac compositions where no amount of blurry treatments can obscure the material's hymnal essence. It's as if the dying breaths of an elderly person—time already stretching out in the final moments—were elongated even further into a four-hour span (the slow, recurring surge in “Don't Sleep I Am Not What I Seem, I'm A Very Quiet Storm” plays somewhat like the softest of exhalations). At times, the music feels so fragile and on the verge of expiring, it's like lines of writing on old parchments that are so faded one struggles to decipher their original contents.

November 2009