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Music / Leyland Kirby

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Photograph of Leyland James Kirby is without description.

"The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time."

Leyland James Kirby (born May 9, 1974) is an English musician known for his noise and ambient compositions. While Kirby has an extensive discography dating back to the late 1990s of recordings under almost a dozen stage names as well as his own name, he is without a doubt best known for his releases under a project titled The Caretaker. The project ran for 20 years, beginning in 1999, first gaining widespread attention online in the early 2010s, and concluding at the tail end of that decade with the release of the final installment of the album series Everywhere at the end of time.

In its infancy, The Caretaker dealt primarily with ideas of ghosts and memory as inspired by The Shining (what with its name being a direct Shout-Out), solidifying a trademark sound of sampled ballroom jazz recordings from the 1920s and '30s being altered to create dreary, atmospheric ambient music. The breakthrough acclaim of 2011's Lighter and Softer An empty bliss beyond this World brought unprecedented levels of attention to the project, which also led to the initiation of a new era of sorts, as Kirby initially had no plans to continue the project beyond that album, and had a new audience with which he could expand upon the themes he wanted to cover.

Kirby then became more interested in musically exploring dementia and how it impacts people. This approach culminated with a 6.5-hour album series called Everywhere at the end of time, released between 2016 and 2019, in which Kirby "gave the project dementia" and sonically represented the stages of the disease from onset to death.

After this series, Kirby announced that the project would no longer be active, with the Caretaker character symbolically dying with the completion of the album series. However, he still released one more album before calling it quits (at least as far as his Caretaker persona is concerned).


    open/close all folders 

    as The Caretaker 
  • Selected Memories from the Haunted Ballroom (1999)
  • A stairway to the stars (2001)
  • We'll all go riding on a rainbow (2003)
  • Theoretically pure anterograde amnesia (2005)
  • Additional Amnesiac Memories (2006; extension to Theoretically pure anterograde amnesia)
  • Deleted scenes, forgotten dreams (2007)
  • Persistent repetition of phrases (2008)
  • Recollected Memories from the Museum of Garden History (2008; compilation album released for a special event)
  • An empty bliss beyond this World (2011)
  • Patience (After Sebald) (2012; film score)
  • Extra Patience (After Sebald) (2012; EP featuring outtakes from Patience (After Sebald))
  • Everywhere at the end of time - Stage 1 (2016)
  • Everywhere at the end of time - Stage 2 (2017)
  • Everywhere at the end of time - Stage 3 (2017)
  • Take Care. It's a Desert Out There... (2017)
  • Everywhere at the end of time - Stage 4 (2018)
  • Everywhere at the end of time - Stage 5 (2018)
  • Everywhere, an empty bliss (2019; B-sides compilation featuring unused tracks from the Everywhere at the end of time series)
  • Everywhere at the end of time - Stage 6 (2019)

    as Leyland Kirby 
  • Sadly, the future is no longer what it was (2009)
  • Eager to tear apart the stars (2011)
  • We drink to forget the coming storm (2014)
  • We, so tired of all the darkness in our lives (2017)

    as The Stranger 
  • Bleaklow (2008)
  • Watching Dead Empires in Decay (2013)

All you are going to want to do is get back to those tropes:

  • Alternate Album Cover:
    • The vinyl releases of Stages 4-6 of Everywhere at the End of Time are split into two discs per album due to the space limitations of the LP format. As a result, they feature entirely new artwork in their inner covers, with Ivan Seal creating a unique painting for each disc in the sets.
    • The CD releases comprising sets of Stages 1-3 and Stages 4-6 feature none of the main artworks for the albums, instead featuring one new painting for the one-disc set of Stages 1-3, and one per disc for the 4-disc set of Stages 4-6 (which is divided up that way due to space limitations on the Compact Disc format).
  • Animal Motif: V/Vm's was pigs, to which the project often compared humanity. He even performed under the name in a pig's mask.
  • Arc Words: "Empty", "beyond", "bliss", "defeat", "Libet's delay" and "Heartaches" frequently recur in the titles of the tracks in An Empty Bliss Beyond this World and Everywhere at the End of Time.
  • Body Motifs: The decaying brain is a motif lying under Everywhere at the end of time, given that the topic of the project is the progression of Alzheimer's disease, a neurodegenerative condition. Throughout, there is an audio metaphor comparing aged audio media to the decaying brain, with record crackles and dust in the grooves standing in for memory loss and atrophying brain folds. Stage 5's track titles are all named after clinical terms for neurodegeneration. Some of the album covers by Ivan Seal may invoke the motif as well—Stage 1's paper-like roll is partially crumpled as if to invoke brain decay, Stage 3's mass of strokes may invoke tangled neurons, and the figure in Stage 5's cover may invoke an atrophied brain mass.
  • Book Ends: The last Caretaker project ends with the same sample that winds down the first one; see Mythology Gag below.
  • Chronological Album Title: Every album in the Everywhere at the End of Time series has a subtitle listing its position in the series; Stages 1 through 6.
  • Concept Album: Many albums revolve around the effects that dementia has on the brain. Everywhere at the End of Time is a series of this kind of albums.
  • Creepy Jazz Music: Basically what most of the used samples (except in non-coherent tracks like those of Stages 4-6 of Everywhere) turn into after being edited.
  • Darker and Edgier: Although the project was quite dark and horror-inspired when it started, it became much heavier and bleaker after Kirby decided to incorporate ideas about amnesia and dementia, culminating with the literal aural equivalent of losing one's mind.
  • Deconstruction: Throughout the Caretaker project, Leyland Kirby shows us how nostalgia can be corrupted through the loss of memory. Everywhere at the End of Time can be seen as the culmination of this idea.
    • The era in which Kirby focused more on looped samples coincides with the rise of vaporwave as a genre, especially with the 2011 release of An Empty Bliss Beyond this World. While vaporwave is already a Deconstructive Parody of '80s nostalgia, the Caretaker's music plays the dementia and faded recollections of The Roaring '20s and The '30s completely straight, but to create a sense of the uncanny instead of nostalgia. The latter stages of Everywhere at the End of Time are such a radical departure from even the most experimental of "sampledelia" that it feels like the entire concept of nostalgia is being shredded from existence.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: Ivan Seal's album art for all the Caretaker releases certainly qualifies. Especially Stage 5 of Everywhere with its ballerina on a staircase (or perhaps it's something else; the painting is very ambiguous).
  • Doomed Protagonist: Everywhere at the End of Time features this trope in audio-simulation form, putting you in the shoes of someone who's going through all the phases of dementia, from the beginnings of memory loss through confusion, panic, and the inevitable ending of death.
  • Drone of Dread: Many of his albums feature tracks with extremely repetitive samples that just loop forever and become increasingly distorted. Resonant drones emerge and intensify in Everywhere at the end of time to reflect more severe memory gaps from dementia, with the majority of the audible sound in the sixth and final album being empty droning tones to illustrate how much has been lost.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The Caretaker began as a spin-off of Kirby's earlier project V/Vm by way of The Shining, and as a result the first few albums sound like a less destructive version of V/Vm with a narrower pallet of samples. Selected Memories from the Haunted Ballroom even features a couple tracks of straight-up noise music.
  • Epic Rocking: It may stretch the definition of "rocking", but every track on Deleted Scenes / Forgotten Dreams and Stages 4-6 of Everywhere at the End of Time is over 20 minutes long, occupying entire record sides in their double-LP vinyl releases. There's also the single track of Take Care. It's a Desert Out There..., which reaches a length of 48 minutes.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The main running theme of EATEOT is how inevitably inescapable and isolating dementia and mental illness are. No matter what a person does, they slowly lose more and more of themselves and their cognition until everything is just a meaningless haze of noise, with the disease almost torturing them by showing them only the briefest moments of clarity before tearing it away, with lucidity only returning in full just before the patient's death.note 
  • Foregone Conclusion: The entirety of Everywhere's representation of dementia is built to progressively lead up to death in its finale, and the feeling of dread over what's to come permeates every track. Doesn't make it any less disturbing or saddening to listen to.
  • Foreshadowing: Done for tragic effect in EATEOT, with song titles warning of decline and ominous audio effects that characterize the late stages of mental decay appearing in earlier stages as a taste of what will soon become the dominant tone of the music.
  • Four Is Death:
    • The "Post-Awareness" begins with Stage 4 of Everywhere, as the extreme noise kicks in.
    • In a lesser known extent, Stages 4-6 (as well as Deleted Scenes / Forgotten Dreams, which established an early version of the stages' format) have a total of four tracks each, while the project ends with Stage 6's fourth track, "Place in the World fades away".
    • The cover arts of Stages 2 and 6 also show four flowers and four pieces of painter's tape, respectively.
  • Grand Finale: Invoked; Kirby consciously built Everywhere as the ultimate sendoff for the Caretaker character and project, and with its six-hour runtime, compilation of varying soundscapes, and thematic overtones of death, it is fittingly very grand and very final.
    • On a smaller level, many see Stage 6 or its last track as giving off a similar effect, what with it being the last official Caretaker release.
  • Leitmotif:
    • The song "Heartaches" is one for the entire Everywhere at the End of Time project. Al Bowlly's version is the sample behind the very first track of Stage 1, "It's just a burning memory", and "Heartaches" makes several more appearances throughout the rest of the stages, more distorted each time, and sometimes using a sample of a different cover of the same song as well, with the more somber versions by Seger Ellis and Guy Lombardo being used at several points instead.
    • "Goodnight, My Beautiful"/"Libet's delay" becomes one starting with Stage 3, being featured several times in one form or another from then on.
    • "Friends Past Re-United", a sample of St Luke Passion, BWV 246, is one for the entire project, appearing several times over its 20-year span, before its final appearance as the project's last memory before "death".
    • Mantovani's "Granada" is similar to "Friends Past Re-United" in that it appears over the entire project, appearing first in Theoretically pure anterograde amnesia, reappearing as the Hell Sirens of Stage 4, and reappearing again occasionally in Stages 5 and 6.
  • Lighter and Softer:
    • An Empty Bliss Beyond This World is this compared to the other Caretaker releases, as it eases off on the harsh drones and effects, and focuses a lot more on the samples.
    • Stage 1 of Everywhere at the End of Time is also a relatively lighter listen due to it being early on in the dementia process.
    • Take care. It's a desert out there... is arguably this as well, as it focuses on a more natural, drone-resemblant ambient style rather than distorted ambience.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: Persistent Repetition of Phrases, Empty Bliss, Patience (After Sebald), and the awareness stages of Everywhere have several between them.
  • Mind Screw: The album covers with Ivan Seal's paintings, depicting uncanny plausible objects that look recognizable only to a point, serving as a visual suggestion of perceptual declines from dementia.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art:
    • All stages of Everywhere at the End of Time have very little going on in their cover art, consisting of a single object sitting in a featureless room with zero text.
    • Many other albums, such as An Empty Bliss Beyond this World and Persistent Repetition of Phrases, also have cover arts that fit this trope.
  • Mood Whiplash: Everywhere at the End of Time has several of these Played for Drama.
    • In general, every time a track abruptly ends and is replaced with another one.
    • The start of Stage 3 contrasts harshly with the end of Stage 2. After Stage 2 ended with "The Way Ahead Feels Lonely", a more subdued melancholic piece, Stage 3 opener "Back There Benjamin" is a fairly forceful and cacophonic track whose sound invokes aggressive attempts at cheerfulness and recall that are brutally unraveled by the encroaching distortions of the disease.
    • The last track of Stage 3, "Mournful Camaraderie", consists of a relatively mellow-sounding drone over broken snippets of "Heartaches" previously heard in "Burning Despair Does Ache". The first track of Stage 4, "Post-Awareness Confusions", tosses out the melody and turns the droning into something from a horror movie soundtrack, with the samples becoming far more chaotic.
    • Stage 4's first half-hour is entirely filled with glitchy fragments of melody from the first three stages being played back, but at around 14 minutes into the second track, the glitching cuts out and is replaced with a howling foghorn and wailing sirens.
    • 4 minutes into Stage 5, the intense noise cuts out and is replaced with a coherent short sample of a dance band similar to the ones on the first three stages. Within 30 seconds, it's gone and replaced with more horrifying sounds.
    • 19 minutes into Stage 5, the noise once again cuts out and turns into a distant-sounding echoing voice and mandolin sample. It would be a moment of calm if it didn't sound so alien.
    • The end of Stage 6 and the series as a whole. For the past 4 hours, you've been listening to nothing but samples being turned into some of the most terrifying noises imaginable. By Stage 6, you can't recognize anything that even remotely resembles music, but in the last track, you hear what sounds like an organ ominously crescendoing, until you can't take it anymore and then... silence. A needle drops on a record. And the sound that comes out will bring even the most hardened listeners to tears as they hear what sounds like a choir of angels mourning the dead.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • A performance of the traditional pop standard "Heartaches" by Al Bowlly is prominently featured throughout Everywhere at the End of Time as a leitmotif for the album's exploration of dementia; Bowlly's rendition of "Midnight, the Stars, and You" was previously used in The Shining, the movie that inspired the Caretaker project in the first place.
    • The distorted choir sample that ends Everywhere is actually sourced from "Friends Past Reunited," which was one of the last tracks of Selected Memories from the Haunted Ballroom, and reprised in A Stairway to the Stars.
  • New Sound Album: Several throughout the project's history.
    • Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia was the first album to explicitly deal in themes of mental decline, and sounded completely different from what led up to it. The album featured lengthy drones of dread, with what few identifiable samples there were often buried under constant noise.
    • Persistent Repetition Of Phrases is a more conventional case of this, marking the project's transition from reverb-heavy plunderphonics reminiscent of V/Vm to loop-based compositions exploring flaws within the records themselves.
    • Everywhere at the End of Time changes sound dramatically between Stages 3 and 4, with the latter returning to Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia's lengthy pieces full of harsh noise. The latter two stages are even more extreme drone albums, with fewer recognizable samples and more harsh noise. Stage 6 is almost entirely static noise.
  • No Ending: If Everywhere tracks don't end with their reverb tail fading into the distance, they can often cut off without warning, amounting to the instant cessation of a memory.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Stage 6 of Everywhere at the End of Time generates this response on several fronts.
    • After the extremely noisy Stages 4 and 5, this stage is largely comprised of dense walls of static drones, like the sonic embodiment of an empty mind.
    • With each stage, Kirby wrote short descriptions of the mental degradation the album was made to represent. For Stages 1-5, the descriptions got bleaker and darker, with increasingly disturbing imagery. The description for the last stage? "Post-Awareness Stage 6 is without description."
    • After the album covers of Stages 3-5 employed surreal and chaotic visual representations of the worsening dementia, Stage 6's cover (titled "Necrotomigaud") is simply the blank backend of a canvas. Among the many theories floated by fans, the most agreed-upon infer that the cover represents the Caretaker being unable to perceive themselves and/or anything else as an image anymore, with the front of the canvas being obscured much like how they can no longer access their memories.
    • Meta example: as areas like RateYourMusic comment boxes have proven records of, being a follower of the Caretaker during the Everywhere rollout meant that you had no idea what sound the next stage would capture as the dementia progressed. As the project progressed into more abrasive territories, many feared Stage 6 being, among other things, nothing but harsh noise. Do take note that there were 5-7 months in between stages to let all those fears ruminate...
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: "Bewildered in Other Eyes" from Stage 3 of Everywhere at the End of Time.
  • Painting the Medium:
    • Kirby's albums about dementia sample very old music that happens, more often than not, to come with its own audio decay from the records and wax cylinders it was recorded on, making the recordings imperfect and not totally true to life. As used in the projects, the static and crackling and chuffing present in the samples is exploited and often amplified as an auditory representation of brain degeneration and mnemonic deterioration, with the damaged or incomplete audio reflecting eroding memories.
    • Some of the songs sampled in EATEOT have titles corresponding to their usage in the albums. "To Be Forgotten" is one of the songs incorporated, generally reflecting the concept of dementia, and during the first moment of musical lucidity in Stage 5, the song used is titled "Was It a Dream?", reflecting the reaction of the demented person to the clarity. With that title used as the sample, it invokes the affected person wondering either "Was the disease and loss and horror all a dream I woke up from?" or "Was that brief respite and return to clarity all just a dream?"
  • Production Throwback: In EATEOT:
    • Stage 3 has numerous references to An Empty Bliss Beyond this World, found in both the track titles, the "Goodnight, My Beautiful" leitmotif of "Libet's delay", and even a rendition of the album's title track, sampling an orchestrated version of "The Wedding of the Painted Doll".
    • From Stage 4 onwards, there are glitched snippets of tracks from even pre-Empty Bliss albums, such as A stairway to the stars, We'll all go riding on a rainbow, and Selected Memories from the Haunted Ballroom.
  • Psychological Horror: In the case of EATEOT, it doesn't get much more psychological than an audio depiction of the process of literally losing one's mind.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: From 'Pig', one of Kirby's projects under the V/Vm title, the liner notes are both grandly misanthropic and extremely elegant in how they get their message across in likening the uncouth behaviour of humans as being similar to the titular pigs:
    As the connection between HUMAN and PIG blurs into one hideous being — vvmPIG provides the still creative amongst us with a tool against this ever emerging mass. The difference between most clubs, pubs, bars and PIG sties is slight with this 'emerging creature' finding itself surrounded on the dancefloors with creatures of similar intelligence, engaging in HOG like behaviour of grand proportion.
    This behaviour is not only confined to the areas listed above. A quick walk down the street is usually interrupted by one of these hideous creatures wriggling its snout or chasing its tail. This emerging hog like mass has no purpose other than to be manipulated and taken advantage of.
    vvmPIG reaches out to this MASS of people in a language they can fully understand and easily comprehend. Upon exposure to vvmPIG members of the mass have spontaneously began to search for scraps, grunt vociferously, fight and bully each other, and on occasion certain crossbreeds and inbreds have been seen consuming their own and others faeces.
    Please use this record as a tool enabling you to offend the MASS. For maximum effect the following announcement should be made to those about to be exposed.
    V/Vm wholeheartedly encourage the playing of this record and the consequences which may arise if you do so.
  • Repetitive Audio Glitch: Every track features samples being looped ad nauseum, often until it's almost unbearable, after which the audio cuts out. EATEOT Stage 3 track "Hidden sea buried deep" pushes this for very sad effect— the track is a short loop of just the piano intro of a song, analogous to a memory that has been partially erased and yields no more information no matter how often the patient tries to start it over.
  • Sampling: Every track in the Caretaker's catalogue (excluding the harsh noise tracks and synthesizer tracks in Selected Memories) contains samples from various artists in the first half of the 20th century, with some outliers ranging from the late 19th century to the 1980s. The most frequently sampled artists include Al Bowlly, Russ Morgan, Layton & Johnstone, Paul Whiteman, Maurice Winnick, Chester Gaylord, and Charlie Spivak. Dedicated Caretaker fans have looked far and wide for every sample used and so far have pieced together the entire first half of Everywhere at the End of Time, as well as most of the second half.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: EATEOT could be considered the ultimate in this trope, being a six-album series of progressive musical degeneration to reflect the physical and mental losses resultant from the brain's deterioration. Some tracks capture emotional distress from awareness of decline, while others reflect the overall chaos and loss of coherence in late stages of the disease.
  • Sensory Abuse: The second half of Everywhere at the End of Time consists of jumbled-up fragments of music played against a backdrop of pure noise. By the final stage, the samples are practically inaudible over the intense drones.
  • Silence Is Golden: Everywhere at the End of Time ends with a minute of complete silence. Given the themes of the album, it's absolutely haunting.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: The Caretaker is this to V/Vm. Kirby has noted that both projects are themed conceptually around memory and its relationship with music, but whereas V/vm was essentially a troll project that ruthlessly mangled and distorted songs from the 1980s and 1990s, The Caretaker's samples and edits of ballroom music treat the subject matter with a great deal more respect.
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song:
    • Stage 4 of Everywhere at the End of Time has "Temporary Bliss State". After over 40 minutes of a terrifying noisescape of distorted samples, there's a track that sounds downright blissful by comparison, even if it is still quite sad.
    • The end of Stage 6 of Everywhere at the End of Time, in which all the noise cuts out and is replaced by a funeral choir singing solemnly, followed by one minute of silence representing the Caretaker's "death".
      • The main theories are that it's a form of terminal lucidity, a moment in which the patient suddenly regains their memory in the final days or moments before their death, or the Caretaker's funeral.
  • Surreal Horror: So much of The Caretaker's work leans heavily into this, with compositions that just don't make much sense, and are all the more horrific for it.
  • Textless Album Cover: Barring a few, almost every album by The Caretaker lacks any kind of text on the cover, in favor of minimalist designs as described above.
  • Waxing Lyrical: "It's just a burning memory" and "What does it matter how my heart breaks", both EATEOT renditions of "Heartaches", derive their titles from lyrics in the original song.
  • Word Salad Title: The names of most of the tracks on EATEOT Stage 3 are mishmashes of song names from the first two stages and An Empty Bliss, representing the Caretaker's memories becoming more confused and scrambled, and implicitly their language abilities taking a noticeable toll. Doubles as Word-Salad Horror given the context.
    • The titles on Everywhere, an Empty Bliss are also presented like this, though, being an album of outtakes, it doesn't have the same context.

May the ballroom remain eternal.
C'est fini.

Alternative Title(s): Leyland James Kirby, The Caretaker, V Vm