An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
|An empty bliss beyond this World|
|Studio album by|
|Released||21 June 2011|
|Studio||A flat in Berlin and England|
|Label||History Always Favours the Winners|
|The Caretaker chronology|
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World is the eighth studio album by The Caretaker, an ambient music project of English musician Leyland Kirby. The LP comprises modified samples of pre-World War II vinyl ballroom jazz records Kirby bought very cheaply at a Brooklyn store in December 2010. The record's editing of the audio sources is based on a study regarding people with alzheimer's disease being able to remember music they listened to when they were younger, as well as where they were and how they felt when they listened to it.
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World was The Caretaker's breakthrough album, garnering critical acclaim upon its release and making its way into numerous year-end lists by publications. Pitchfork has called it the 75th best album of the first half of the 2010s as well as the 14th best ambient album of all time.
Kirby did not plan out making a record like An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, and the album was made because of "pure chance in action at all times." The making of the album started when he shopped at a Brooklyn store in December 2010 and bought a ten-dollar collection of numerous old ballroom music records. He wouldn't use the records for a while until he was in a Berlin flat, where he spent around a month tracking them by playing them on a broken turntable and transferring the recordings to a digital recorder he obtained while vacationing in Spain during the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull. Then, by the time he moved to another flat, he edited and mixed the recordings. The artwork for An Empty Bliss Beyond This World was done by Kirby's long-time friend Ivan Seal.
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World follows the mind of a person who tries and struggles to remember even small parts of his life using broken sounds. The record was based on a 2010 study about the ability of people with Alzheimer's disease to remember music they listened to when they were younger, as well as where they were and how they felt when they listened to it. The Caretaker project was inspired by the use of ballroom music in films such as Carnival Of Souls (1962), The Shining (1980), and the television series Pennies from Heaven (1978), which drew James Kirby to themes of memory loss that appear on An Empty Bliss Beyond This World: "Famously, people as they got older have started seeing dead people, people from the past, and that's their reality because the brain's misfiring. I'm very interested in these kinds of stories. Music's probably the last thing to go for a lot of people with advanced Alzheimer's. There are a lot of people who suffer from Alzheimer's who just hum the same songs over and over again."
Critic Rowan Savage compared the album to Mark Z. Danielewski's novel House of Leaves (2000) due to its "endless and fearfully cavernous space (the ballroom) existing concealed by the deceptive limitations of familiar domesticity" represented with a deep resonant sound. Some tracks on An Empty Bliss Beyond This World have another slightly-different version of it that appears later in the album and have the same name, such as the title track and “Mental Caverns Without Sunshine.” Kirby explained this was done to give it a déjà vu vibe: "Immediately upon first listen, you’re already questioning where you have heard this song before." The second version of "Mental Caverns Without Sunshine" is only half as long as the first version of the track on the LP. As Savage analyzed, the repeating of samples and loops on the LP questions the listener if "[their] sense of familiarity spring[s] from the loop[s] [themselves] or from the very patina that inheres in the scratchy turntable record as such," as well as "if samples are being looped or whether the pieces chosen, in their role as background to an always already arriving vocal line or dance step, are repetitive in and of themselves." While most of the tracks on the album suddenly end, the album's closer fades out which, according to Savage, is a "memento mori that must go hand-in-hand with the resurrection of sounds as temporally distant as these, with the re-giving of the name and hence finitude, the entry (or, rather, re-entry) into mercilessly linear history."
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World has retrofuturistic themes of disputes between the distant past and the envisioned future similar to Into Outer Space with Lucia Pamela (1969). Savage labeled the album a commentary on modern music that "coloni[zes]" and "dehistoricize[s]" works from the past. He compared the album to when Gary Numan sang "I'm Vera Lynn" on the track "War Songs." Describing "War Songs" as a "peculiar evocation of the 30s and 50s as vocodered through eerie 80s electro," Savage explained:
Where [Numan] was content to tell, The Caretaker [...] has shown, and in doing so gone one better — he’s given us the shade of Lynn herself, while making apparent its ghostly, absent nature. It’s as if Kirby, speaking to a postmodern generation steeped in Stone-cold revivalism [...] is asking: “You call that retro? This is retro” (but also, this is what retro is, and that may not be the comfortable appropriation you’re familiar with).
Compared by multiple commentators to William Basinski's album series The Disintegration Loops (2002) and the music for the BioShock series, as well as by Brandon Bussolini to the works of Philip Jeck and Mike Powell of Pitchfork to Ekkehard Ehlers' "Plays John Cassavetes 2" and Gavin Bryars' "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet," the LP uses samples of obsolete pre-World War II 78-rpm ballroom jazz recordings. The samples in An Empty Bliss Beyond This World's first tracks are the most prominent. Surrounding these samples are vinyl scratches and click and pop sounds that, in the words of Savage, are "steampunk glitches." All of the sounds become more filtered in echo as each track goes on. It is unknown if Kirby added these echo filters or if they are a part of the original recordings, which Savage analyzed gave the LP an "affective" vibe. As the album progresses, the samples become more fragmented and unnoticeable, the sounds stop staying at both stereo channels, and the tracks become shorter. Thus, as Savage wrote, "the experience begins to fall apart." This is all until "Camaraderie at Arms Length," which starts a clear repeat of the music sources heard in the LP's early tracks that ends the album.
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World is one of very few albums where the main focus is not on composition and instrumentation. The primary attention of the album is how the audio sources are altered and edited. As Powell wrote, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World has a "mindless" method of editing audio sources to represent "the fragmented and inconclusive ways our memories work." The tracks on the LP "never feel filled-in from start to finish, and they tend to linger on moments that feel especially comforting or conclusive." Some songs end abruptly in what feels like their mid-way point, and the album also has a "jump cut" method of transitioning between each track and noticeable skipping through melodic samples. The LP develops from its small changes in reverb and echo and how the amount of noise that surrounds the samples increases. The echo was noted by some critics to give the album a ghost-like ominous feel, while Powell wrote that the crooked editing of the samples is what gave the album its eerie feel: "The source material is music designed not only to comfort, but to sound like it existed before you: hymns, love songs, lullabies. Bliss is eerie because it takes the seduction of those forms and turns it slightly askew." Bussolini analyzed that the audio sources used have a timeless feel to them which is also what gives the LP its ghostly vibe: "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 album ends, but whatever it conjured can't."
While Andrew Ryce of Resident Advisor described the tone of An Empty Bliss Beyond This World as "overbearingly depressive," other reviewers noted brighter vibes with the LP. Savage wrote that An Empty Bliss Beyond This World was different from the "dissonant and reverberated" past releases of The Caretaker in that it had a tone that was "subtle and disconcertingly reassuring — as if the shades of the Overlook Hotel, in imploring the caretaker to join them, were to ask that he should do so through the medium of suicide rather than murder." This was similarly noted in Powell's review of the LP, which he wrote that "there's something at least metaphorically beautiful-- even slightly funny-- about living inside a locked groove, dancing with nobody." D. M. Edwards, a critic for PopMatters, opined that while some tracks, such as “All You’re Going to Want to Do Is Get Back There” and “Mental Caverns Without Sunshine," are "sublime rather than weird or unnerving," others are "uncomfortable as being ten years old and required to kiss your grandmother on her overly lipsticked mouth." In addition to its bright feel, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World also differs from past Caretaker works in that, whereas the audio sources were previously obscured via lots of pitch-shifting and reverb, here there is a much clearer focus on the samples.
|Coke Machine Glow||70%|
|Tiny Mix Tapes|||
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World was The Caretaker's breakthrough album. Nick Butler of Sputnikmusic called it one of the most "beguiling" albums of 2011. He highlighted the album's mixture of two different vibes, that the samples used are "often jolly and very dated to the point of arguably being irrelevant to modern ears," and the overall music is "very modern [...] and very depressing." He analyzed that these two tones "don't match at all, and it sends [the listener's] brain into overdrive trying to figure it all out, trying to work out where the link is between those two extremes is." James Knapman of Igloo magazine labeled it Kirby's most "endearing" work released yet due to its combination of light and haunting tones: "What it asks of the listener is a sense of humour and the ability to actively enjoy the aged source material that Kirby has spliced and looped together. It’s a truly haunting experience that is buoyed up by a heady dose of nostalgia and affection that bestows upon it an oddly lilting quality."
Simon Reynolds labeled An Empty Bliss Beyond This World an "excellent" example of a record using hauntology themes. Michael Lovino, writing for No Ripcord, analyzed, "there’s a mysterious sense that what we're listening to is pure fantasy, designed to perplex our constant perception of our reality, of the moment, now, as we experience it, right now. This may just be the first record that emits such a strange feeling with such sublime ghostliness." He highlighted the LP's ability to achieve a "perplexing and strenuous" task of inducing many emotions into the listener, writing that "Kirby does it with a special kind of grace." Ryce called An Empty Bliss Beyond This World "evocative, heart-tugging stuff," stating that "when knowledge of Kirby's intent lurks underneath the damaged acetate grooves, it becomes something else entirely: A poignant interrogation of memory loss and aging." He opined that it was far superior of most other ambient albums that "get lost in their own delusions of grandeur vis a vis elaborate concepts," describing the way the samples are edited on the LP as "simplistic" but "so horrifyingly effective it's hard to feel anything but awestruck."
Andrew Hall of Coke Machine Glow described the album as "a remarkably cohesive listen and one that achieves its goals, but whether or not it, in and of itself, is an entirely creative work is another question entirely." He praised the LP's unique sampling style and "careful" sequencing. However, he also felt that the album was "like a glorified mix with a handful of treatments made to emphasize specific elements of the music being manipulated," writing that "it already has prompted difficult to address questions over ownership, credit, and just how much work actually goes into creating a finished product when working through a method like Kirby’s." Reporter magazine's Alex Rogala called the LP one of the best of 2011, explaining "While it may not be one of 2011’s strongest albums, its adventurous spirit makes it one of the year’s must-listen releases." However, he also had minor criticisms, such as the album's more chaotic elements lacking in musical elements and the crackle sounds sounding like a "cheap effect."
In an October 2014 BDCwire article titled "Cultural Sommelier: Pairing The Caretaker’s ‘An Empty Bliss Beyond This World’ with ‘The Shining’," Tyler Cumella labeled An Empty Bliss Beyond This World one of the most "fascinating" records of the 2010s. He stated that the LP "has the overall quality of something slipping through your fingers, like a memory that you are struggling to cling onto. Rarely has an album created such a haunting, insular look at the life of the mind." He compared the LP to The Shining, the film the album was inspired by, in that they "perfectly capture the sense of a faltering mind, with past and present blurring together into a beautifully eerie whole."
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World landed at number 22 on Pitchfork's list of the "Top 50 Albums of 2011". It later made its way to number 75 on the publication's list of the best albums of the first half of the 2010s decade (2010 to 2014) and number 14 on their list of the greatest ambient albums of all time. Gorilla vs. Bear ranked it number 14 on their list of the best albums of 2011, where their writer Chris called it "some of the loveliest, most heartbreaking anonymous music we never knew we needed," while Uncut magazine placed it at number 47 on their year-end list.
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World was number four on a year-end list by Tiny Mix Tapes of 2011's best releases, where journalist Embling described the LP as "relevant and necessary" due to the year's rise in the number of films and other forms of media that were "antique revisions, early 20th-century histories made conveniently, divertingly neat" and "tinsel-toned recreations of a world that never actually was, much as we sometimes wish it had been." These films included Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Midnight in Paris (2011), The Artist (2011), and Hugo (2011). Embling wrote that with the album, "Leyland Kirby presented pre-war 78s in their current, decaying condition, as a testament to the things that cannot be restored, those people, moments, and memories lost to time, out of reach and forever unrecoverable." In 2013, the album was number 79 on a list of "The Top 130 Albums" of the previous five years by Beats per Minute.
|1.||"All you're going to want to do is get back there"||3:46|
|2.||"Moments of sufficient lucidity"||3:47|
|3.||"The great hidden sea of the unconscious"||3:02|
|5.||"I feel as if I might be vanishing"||1:55|
|6.||"An empty bliss beyond this World"||4:19|
|7.||"Bedded deep in long term memory"||1:48|
|8.||"A relationship with the sublime"||3:36|
|9.||"Mental caverns without Sunshine"||3:13|
|10.||"Pared back to the minimal"||1:45|
|11.||"Mental caverns without Sunshine"||1:35|
|12.||"An empty bliss beyond this World"||3:48|
|13.||"Tiny gradiations of loss"||2:52|
|14.||"Camaraderie at arms length"||4:45|
|15.||"The sublime is disappointingly elusive"||1:44|
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- "The 100 Best Albums of the Decade So Far (2010-2014)". Pitchfork. Conde Nast. 19 August 2014. p. 2. Retrieved 8 January 2012.
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- "2011: Favorite 50 Albums of 2011". Tiny Mix Tapes. 15 December 2011. p. 5. Retrieved 26 July 2017.
- "BPM 5: The Top 130 Albums". Beats per Minute. 15 October 2013. p. 4. Retrieved 26 July 2017.