Everywhere at the end of time has been ongoing for three years. Six albums, describing the six stages of Alzheimer's. The man behind these albums, Leyland Kirby, broke through with 2011's An Empty Bliss Beyond This World. Everywhere... sees Kirby kill off this project with some of the most harrowing and beautifully conceptualised music of the decade.
In An Empty Bliss... we see the world through the eyes of a ghost. Wobbly old 78s stretch and twist. The Caretaker drifts through abandoned ballrooms, sailing the dust of those long dead. Everything is foggy and inscrutable.
With the first stage of Everywhere at the end of time, Kirby gives The Caretaker corporeality; concreteness. Their voice, those profaned dance hall records, attains new saliency. The question of 'who is this person?' both arrives and is settled in one swoop. The record is functional (almost impossibly so in hindsight), but rich and warm at the same time. Themes roar in to being; themes which will soon become an anchor. Stage one displays almost full cogency, clarity and lightness. The hiss of things to come weighs nothing on our shoulders. For listeners there is some uncomfortable dramatic irony. The subject of this work seems not to know what they are in for.
Stage one's achievements are more easy to appreciate now, at the project's completion. At the time of stage one's release, there was a dissatisfied, 'is that it?' from some critical corners. But its establishment of character and memorable motifs are what grant power to every subsequent stage. This can be said to mirror the feeling of remorse felt towards suffers of neurodegenerative conditions. ‘I didn't tell them I loved them enough when they were still able to hear it.’
On stage two, things take a more overtly upsetting turn. Some themes from stage one return, crumbling under their own weight. Tracks are less frequently repetitive, and can lurch into unexpected, frightening new areas with no warning. The titles of tracks become jumbled, jabbering and fearful. This is possibly the most difficult of all stages to endure. The realisation lands that there is a very serious problem. Despair sets in, and the decay and disruption of memory becomes impossible to ignore.
But here, too, the beauty of Kirby's work comes to the fore. Sample choices are elegant, the samples themselves manipulated with deftness and sensitivity. A bittersweet tone deepens the character established in stage one. Both stage two and its successor appear to tell clear stories. Two emphasises the emotional toll of realising one's doomed situation. Three documents the dismantling of a soul.
Three can be summarised as a profound degradation. Chaos and despair obliterate melody and form until we close on a weak, plaintive sigh. Themes again return, here with a hideous, taunting frequency. The trap of returning again and again to a memory, all too aware that your presence is what crumbles the brickwork, does the windows in and lets mould nest fissures through the floorboards. The glory of remembrance usurped by panic. ‘How many times will I be able to come back here?’
Kirby's ability to wring surprises from a story with such an unwavering downward trajectory is impressive. But at every turn, these stages pull the rug out from under listeners. Kirby seems able to ceaselessly find new ways to distress or provoke sympathy from a listener. And perhaps the most stunning surprise comes at the transition from this project's third phase into its forth. The second half of this project is a different beast entirely to the first. Stages four, five and six comprise 'post-awareness'. These stages, The Caretaker's final bow, will be reviewed in a week's time.
Words by Andrew O’Keefe