The post-awareness stages of Leyland Kirby's two-year project, Everywhere at the end of time, offer a scarier and more bewildering experience than their predecessors. The final moments of stage three hinted at what was to come, but first-time listeners will still find the transition to four a surprise.
The basic premise is still the same; sounds sampled from dancehall 78s, twisted and morphed to replicate the degenerative effects of Alzheimer's. But as the disease has taken hold, our anchor has slipped from the seabed. Melodies are much harder to grasp. When they do show up, it's to provide sad contrast to the chaos around them. Tracks now occupy whole sides and are named according to corresponding symptoms, shedding the mysterious poetry of earlier stages.
Stage four opens with an explosion of panic. Its first two tracks are its most visceral, as our subject reckons with their confusion and horror. ‘H1 — Stage 4 Post Awareness Confusions’ has an almost unbearable stretch of dark, judgement-day horns. As the album proceeds, the general mood becomes more melancholic; less purely terrifying. ‘I1 Stage 4 — Temporary Bliss State’ is, as its name would suggest, a beautiful reprieve amidst the horror. And on the final side, an eerie quiet begins to descend, perhaps mimicking the calm of acceptance.
The post-awareness albums are more difficult to approach critically than those before. They provoke an immediate, personal reaction that is unique to each listener. But despite this, they maintain and even extend the project's conceptual rigour. We lunge for familiar melodies, remembrances triggered in such quick succession, and in such a random order, that a true disorientation begins to set in. These albums fill any space they occupy, scrambling thoughts and feelings. There is little to say which can feel adequate.
Stage five introduces human voices, albeit warped beyond possible understanding. These take the form both of garbled speech, and whistled melodies, produced into inhumanity. There is a specific moment on ‘K1 — Stage 5 Advanced plaque entanglements’ which has the feeling of something snapping. The last remnants of what can be recognised as a dancehall sample disappear, replaced by hissing rushes and disembodied, impossibly stretched single notes.
The general feeling is one of misfiring neurones, connections which cannot be made; stuttering thoughts, fingers brushing but unable to grip each other. The character who was built up so effectively in early stages is now all but eroded away — and each second that passes erases more. Stage five has something of three in it; both albums possess a real sense of progression (or regression), from a starting point of fullness to one of comparative emptiness. By the time five draws to a close, there is barely a whisper to be heard.
The project's final stage is one rung above surface noise; the slowing rattles of an empty body, grave inertia towards oblivion. A minimal piece of work with commanding presence, full of hair-raising negative space. It also has a sort of hopeless humanity, depicting the agony of its situation without luxuriating. But almost all talk about this final stage will centre on its shocking, and deeply human, conclusion as we follow the project to its death.
The end of this project gets uncomfortably close to mourning. The same emotional triggers are toyed with as when experiencing a real loss. Rarely does such an empathetic, imaginative and original work arrive as this. Kirby has absolutely dominated the last two years of music, with each stage of this project complementing, recontextualising and enriching those that came before it. This work must be heard to be believed.
Words by Andrew O’Keefe