Monday, August 8, 2016

The Caretaker - An Empty Bliss Beyond This World Review (2011)

I have two monumental fears. The vast blackness of the ocean, with mysteries beyond what our eyes can see, and Alzheimer's. As humans, we tend to be selfish  when others endure troubling times. With Alzheimer's, many seem to imply a loss for those closest. "Oh my, you can't remember your own grandchildren? How unfortunate for them." Reality though, it holds a stronger, more despondent truth. The slow, torturous, petrified removal of one's own mind and soul shatters anyone's grim and self-absorbed association with it. Scientists have tried both formal and informal ways to jolt that person's memories, all to no avail. It's the only disease where your own past disintegrates itself, leaving an Alzheimer's patient a shell of who they once were. Both as an attempt to kickstart that memory bank and to exemplify just what it's like to exist with that condition, The Caretaker's An Empty Bliss Beyond This World is boundless music restrained to a brown box. Brimming with fuzzy recollections of the past, one in which carefree joy and bliss sought to inject all at a 1920's ballroom recital, The Caretaker's most notable work is also his most forlorn, as the fading nostalgia of happiness gives way to perpetual static.

Leyland Kirby, the curator of this project and many others like it, has always teased a moment in which you've likely never existed. What separates An Empty Bliss from his other works though, is a persistence to the concept. He's not making memories muffled for the sake of it, he's doing so to show you just what life as an Alzheimer's patient is like. As the LP progresses, the Dixieland samples tapping throughout begin to tear away as the crackling, skips, and fidgets begin to take a hold. It's a scary sight, especially considering the music meant to illicit these memories are intended to bring you elation. As an album that deals directly with feeling, tracks like 'All You're Going To Want To Do Is Get Back There' and 'Libet's Delay' actually bring me tearful happiness. Even when vaguely listening to the album I sense contentment, as the work alone impresses me. Quite contrary to how many, including myself when looking at An Empty Bliss with a peculiar eye, feel when the vinyl crackling consumes visions of a bright past. In this sense, the LP pits emotions against each other, which makes many moments, like the sudden clarity of 'Camaraderie At Arms Length,' uneasy when surrounded by helpless despair.

Many aim to discredit the work of The Caretaker as mere plagiarism. On the surface, they have a point. The uncredited samples playing on loop bring the most to the table, with Kirby adding the detractors to the experience, segmenting the music in such ways to create inherent tones. My rebuttal is to sense the tension. Discover the original pieces for yourself, like Russ Morgan's 'What Do You Know About Love' and 'Goodnight, My Beautiful,' or Hal Kemp's 'This Is Romance.' The difference between their versions and The Caretaker's? The emotion. You see, in the 1920's there was no 'haunted ballroom' aesthetic. They lived in the moment, and their records sprung with vigor and glee. The Caretaker, by looping them, masking the vibrance, and cutting sections off abruptly, alters the tension, and thus creates an entirely new work. Morgan, Kemp, and the others weren't trying to pressure you into an uncomfortable catatonic state. If anything, An Empty Bliss shows the importance of context within music, as it's able to take source material, and the listener's reaction to that, and invert it.

Almost as important as the music, the track titles signify a lapse in memory and belief. Pieces like 'Moments Of Sufficient Lucidity' or 'A Relationship With The Sublime' toy with conflicting sentiments. The former, for example, acts as if a diluted given right of reminiscence is adequate enough, while the latter fails to describe just what kind of relationship it is. The finale goes to answer the latter one, stating that 'The Sublime Is Disappointingly Elusive.' A wonderful title that gauges one's attempt to reach a place of serenity. A glance down the list shows you duplicates as well, like the title track or 'Mental Caverns Without Sunshine,' which aim to either revisit the same memory with a greater dedication or revisit them because you have no alternative. Both answers are equally sad. The titles add an extra layer to the work, and act, at least how I see it, as accurate thoughts in the present of what the Alzheimer's patient feels about the past. Interestingly enough, they're all interchangeable, generic thoughts on the sensations abound. As far as vague memories of your youth are concerned, the umbrella-like nature of the titles adds to the fact that the nostalgia itself is all just a blur.

An Empty Bliss, on nearly every front, succeeds in its lofty execution. As an avid listener of certain genres, Ambient hasn't been one of them, as the collective classification itself has always seemed beyond the means of critique. Its sparse nature used as templates, backdrops, or soundtracks to sleep to, but never investigative music meant to engage. The Caretaker's masterwork does that to me, as I'm almost always in awe, even in moments like 'Tiny Gradiations Of Loss' where the static firmly takes grasp of the past. While it's certainly an Ambient album, I hardly treat it as one. No piece lingers for too long, there's a distinct progression to be found, and a context to put it in. Ironically enough, An Empty Bliss is a moment-discovering album, despite the purpose to be lacking them entirely. The introduction is a fascinating step into another reality, the spark of imagination at the end of the first title track a heart-warming moment of melancholy, and 'Libet's Delay's' Bioshock-esque loop a welcome return to my favorite video game of all-time. An Empty Bliss Beyond This World teases memories as a means to teach, not to torment. The conjuration of sounds one of music's most unique post-2010. Let's just hope I never forget it.

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