On his latest release under The Caretaker moniker, James Leyland Kirby leaves no doubt that he is the alpha audio-ghost summoner of our times. This is album...seven, I think? And that’s just for one alias of the ridiculously prolific Berlin artist. Of course, Kirby invented this whole “haunted ballroom” thing, taking the Gold Room from The Shining as its point of departure. How could he be anything other than the best at it? Not many other artists share the same goals, which I suppose is one good reason to invent such a focused concept. He is outstanding in a field of one. Old 78s, their surface noise, some reverb, and crack editing/looping are the only instruments you’ll hear on An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, so that basically puts him within the radius of Philip Jeck’s turntablism and little else, despite sustained critical effort to fit him in with the whole “hauntology” mess.
Where An Empty Bliss differs from previous efforts is its clarity. Super-wet reverb created transportive swirls of sound on his last and best-loved Caretaker missive, The Persistent Repetition of Phrases, but here, it’s reserved for the pops and clicks of needle on shellac. Kirby takes us a lot closer to the source material this time around, making it a bit of a struggle initially to find the creepy thread. Interestingly, the presence of the source music doesn’t detract from the spooky, remote quality that characterizes The Caretaker. Melodic phrases and ectoplasmic trumpet riffs are preserved in long amber loops; it can be calming and beautiful, but there’s a sinister undercurrent. The music allows for just enough change to hold our interest, but after the party’s over...well, the party’s never over and it’s never quite present. The loops have a sense of eternity to them; the album ends, but whatever it conjured can’t. The title track and “Mental Caverns Without Sunshine” both make two appearances on this album; it’d be tempting to describe their return as codas, but they do nothing to conclude. They just carry on with that weary Caretaker elegance.
The Caretaker owes as much to Samuel Beckett as to Stephen King. (Let’s also say that the cover art owes as much to Philip Guston as to a rock.) There’s a real grappling with decrepitude over this album’s 45 minutes. Recollections turned into memory jail. After all, this is the guy who came up with the title “Unmasking Alzheimer’s,” not to mention “Camaraderie at Arms’ Length” and “Moments of Sufficient Lucidity.” Turn it on and let it drift, its undercurrent of mortality eddying out every time a loop returns to zero and the whole ordeal of being begins again.
By Brandon Bussolini