Release Date: Jun 21, 2011
Record label: Haft
Genre(s): Electronic, Club/Dance
“I’m Vera Lynn,” sang Gary Numan in his peculiar evocation of the 30s and 50s as vocodered through eerie 80s electro. But where he was content to tell, The Caretaker, a.k.a. James Leyland Kirby, has shown, and in doing so gone one better — he’s given us the shade of Lynn herself, while making apparent its ghostly, absent nature. It’s as if Kirby, speaking to a postmodern generation steeped in Stone-cold revivalism (“you get your clothes back from the dry cleaners and it’s a revival”), is asking: “You call that retro? This is retro” (but also, this is what retro is, and that may not be the comfortable appropriation you’re familiar with).
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World sounds like a collection of edits of prewar parlor-room music because that's what it is. "This Caretaker album is built from layers of sampled 78s and albums," James Kirby told me in an email recently. "Things have been rearranged in places and other things brought in and out of focus. Surface noise"-- which is abundant-- "is from the original vinyls." Kirby is an artist whose concepts are sometimes more fun to engage with than his music.
Leyland Kirby's work under The Caretaker has always been a sort of paradox, his simplest but most challenging music. Simple in that it's often lightly touched samples of old ballroom recordings, and challenging in well... that it's sometimes only those things. His latest album, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, is almost overbearingly depressive despite the dry wit of its spiritually defeated song titles.
Leyland James Kirby is one of the more intriguing figures occupying the musical landscape of the past decade. His guises include the Stranger, V/VM, Leyland Kirby and a project to illuminate the relationship between memory and sound: The Caretaker. My introduction to the Caretaker was Stairway to the Stars, specifically the release on lovely blue vinyl - a true fetishistic object of desire.The music appeared to be hanging in the air at an intersection where the crackle of old 78s met the genteel swing of romantic 1920s dance music.
At some point, music of the past becomes anyone's archive to rediscover, reposition, and assemble into a record, as James Kirby, aka The Caretaker, has done on An Empty Bliss Beyond This World. One can easily see how this idea is problematic. Copyrights have existed since the Renaissance; behind every piece of music there is a composer, a record company, and an entitlement of ownership.