Monday, April 10, 2017

The Caretaker - Everywhere At The End Of Time Stage 2 Review

When it comes to The Caretaker, the story behind the album is as important, if not more so, than the music itself. The crumbling British Dance Band that parlays solemnly about only feels complete with poetics that foretell the next iteration in the dementia patient's demise. For those unaware of what exactly I'm talking about, or why this album's labeled Stage Two, I direct you to Everywhere At The End Of Time, The Caretaker's most recent project, and first in a line of six that'll eventually conclude the career of Leyland Kirby's most famous pseudonym. From the creator himself, Stage Two is "the self realization and awareness that something is wrong with a refusal to accept that." It's the moment where the brain tries to fight back against itself, a battle that's inevitably futile. For Ambient fine-tuners, who pick apart the subtlest of differences in mood, tone, and atmosphere, nothing more needs to be said; this is an entirely new step. For newcomers however, the nuances of The Caretaker's music, dating back to 2011's declarative shift with An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, may be lost, the overall vibe undoubted similar to Stage One. Myself? I fall somewhere in between.

Let's waste no time. For those aware of The Caretaker's work, the most important thing musically here needs to be spoken of right off the bat; loops are gone. That's right, the whimsical skipping pattern that dominated his most recent works have been swapped out, replaced by longer, more elaborate pieces that feel like entirely self-arranged compositions. Musically speaking, this is, by far, the most important aspect of Stage Two. Now sure, loops will emerge, but they'll be tougher to pinpoint, a drastic shift in style from Kirby's previous works, ones where it wasn't unusual to hear a ten-second loop locked in a groove for three minutes. If we're to abide by the concept, this is quite ironic given the brain we're witnessing is actively dissolving. Despite a more somber tone riding through the bulk of Stage Two's tracks, the memories attached feel more vivid and complete than Stage One given the music's expansive scope. The execution of both LP's would've been better off swapped, but alas, it's a pleasant retreat in knowing Kirby's easily capable of outdoing himself. No longer will naysayers have the ability to use overt sampling as a knock on Kirby's talents, as Stage Two unravels like an original vinyl from a nameless artist unearthed on a 1930's movie set.

In many ways, the minor hills and valleys that provide variety throughout Stage Two bring discernible comparisons to a movie soundtrack, ripe with uneasy tension building. On tracks like 'Glimpses Of Hope In Trying Times' I'm picturing a rain-soaked Noir, 'Surrendering To Despair' a hopeless romantic wandering the streets, 'I Still Feel As Though I Am Me' an introspective moment of isolation after tragic loss. The emotional dissonance tied to each track is tremendous, made even more so by the fact that The Caretaker's largely abiding by the same linear sound spectrum he's always used. Vinyl crackling, occasional skipping, a constant wobble, and ballroom music for a bygone era are still the primary components. As would be expected, the music feels less uppity compared to Stage One, as resistance in learning the truth replaces euphoric recollections. Really, only 'Last Moments Of Pure Recall' invite something more light, as the music, dancing around the ballroom under a grandiose chandelier, feels the most similar to The Caretaker's older works. The only other track that provides that clandestine swoon is 'Misplaced In Time,' which provides a conspicuous jig thanks to some temperamental horns and strings. Certainly haunted mansion-esque.

There is one other track that skews towards the more chipper side though, and that's 'What Does It Matter How My Heart Breaks,' and for one very interesting reason; it reuses a sample from last year's LP. Kirby himself acknowledged this, and in fitting with the overall concept, makes for quite a compelling wrinkle to the dementia patient's mental relapse. In this particular case, 'It's Just A Burning Memory' is reworked, this time around more empty, tuned-out, and crackly. According to the man himself, these repurposed, case-by-case memories will play a larger role on the ensuing LP's, something that'll surely add another facet to witnessing the mental capacity wither away. Think of 'What Does It Matter' as a preemptive teaser to that. And be thankful to, because it's actually one of Stage Two's weaker tracks. In fact, the LP doesn't show its true colors until 'Glimpses,' track four. The opener, 'A Losing Battle Is Raging,' eases listeners in with something that's more Ambient-centric than any Caretaker track beforehand, overwhelming the senses with a continuous, hushed synth. Unfortunately, it's a bit of a bore for introductions, especially when The Caretaker's been known to make grand ones.

However, from 'Glimpses' onwards the ideas are boundless, shifting dramatically, as previously mentioned, to striking images capturing key moments in said person's life. The album's middle stretch really sinks deep down, causing the once-comforting British Dance Band to be more sinister by nature, with its high notes nearly withdrawn. No longer are they the focal point due to incremental looping, they're just atmospheric white noise at this point, a considerable statement to make given that we're only two albums in. Stage Two finds our fictitious lead in a sorrowful state of affairs, if tracks like 'Quiet Dusk Coming Early' or 'The Way Ahead Feels Lonely' are anything to go by. Apart from the strong memories withstanding forgetfulness, the joy and pleasantries feel as if they've been plucked out, piece by piece. At the end of Stage One, while satisfied, I felt doubtful that The Caretaker could carry this idea over six albums, especially considering his former limitations as a sample-centric artist. Not only has Kirby proven to be capable not relying on his shtick, whilst still retaining the same level of wistful nostalgia, but the producer exceeded expectations by going even further down the limitless rabbit hole known as human emotion. With one fell swoop he went from joy to sorrow. Imagining where he'll go next is unnerving.

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