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Music / The Caretaker

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Photograph of James Leyland Kirby is without description.

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

The Caretaker was a musical project exploring memory and dementia created by English musician James Leyland Kirby (born May 9, 1974). While Kirby also has an extensive back catalogue dating back to the late 1990s of recordings under almost a dozen stage names as well as his own name, this is without a doubt his most popular project. The project ran for 20 years, beginning in 1999, first gaining widespread online attention 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 project 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 multi-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).



  • 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)
  • Deleted Scenes / Forgotten Dreams (2007)
  • Recollected Memories From the Museum of Garden History (2008)
  • Persistent Repetition of Phrases (2008)
  • An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (2011)
  • Patience (After Sebald) (film score; 2012)
  • 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)
  • Everywhere at the End of Time - Stage 6 (2019)

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

  • 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.
  • Bookends: 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 (bar the first) 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 these kinds 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 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 has 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.
  • 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. There's also the single track of Take Care. It's a Desert Out There..., which reaches a length of 48 minutes.
  • 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.
  • Four Is Death: The "Post-Awareness" begins with Stage 4 of Everywhere, as the Hell Is That Noise factor 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.
  • Hell Is That Noise:
    • The depiction of dementia progression in Stages 4-6 of Everywhere is essentially nothing but this for several hours, although in different styles.
      • Stage 4 is a chaotic collage of recordings stretched into glitchy, dark, noisy ambience, at one point devolving into a howling foghorn and wailing sirens.
      • Stage 5 expands on the dark ambient/noise angle with much more surreal passages.
      • Stage 6 is seemingly less of an example than the stages prior with its deep, static ambient putting more emphasis on extreme melancholy over debilitating chaos, but its sound essentially being emptier than nothingness itself and just how unrecognizable everything has become since the very start brings it right back up.
    • The last two tracks of Deleted Scenes / Forgotten Dreams, which was an early version of the stages' formats, are a downplayed example as well, since the segments constantly switch between every 30 seconds at minimum.
  • Leitmotif:
    • Al Bowlly's performance of "Heartaches" is one for the entire Everywhere at the End of Time project. It is the sample behind the very first track of Stage 1, "It's just a burning memory", and 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 and reappearing as the Hell Sirens of Everywhere at the End of Time - Stage 4, 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 lighter still, 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 ambient style rather than distorted ambience.
  • Mind Screw: The album covers with Ivan Seal's paintings.
  • 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 last track of Stage 3, "Mournful Camaraderie", consists of a relatively mellow-sounding drone over snippets of "Heartaches". The first track of Stage 4, "Post-Awareness Confusions", turns the droning into something from a horror movie soundtrack, and the samples become 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 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 completely different from any previous projects, featuring lengthy drones of dread instead of short sampled pieces, although later projects returned to the ballroom jazz samples.
    • Everywhere at the End of Time changes sound between Stages 3 and 4, with the latter returning to Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia's lengthy pieces full of Hell Is That 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:
    • After the super-dense, extremely noisy Stages 4 and 5, Stage 6 of Everywhere at the End of Time is largely dense walls of static noise, like the sonic embodiment of an empty mind.
      • Kirby wrote summaries that accompanied each stage. For Stages 1-5, they described the mental degradation each stage was made to represent in excruciating detail with increasingly disturbing imagery. The summary for the last stage? "Post-Awareness Stage 6 is without description."
    • Meta example: as areas like RateYourMusic comment boxes have proven records of, being a Caretaker fan during the Everywhere rollout meant that you had absolutely no idea what sound the next stage would capture as the dementia progressed. As the project devolved into harsher territories, many feared Stage 6 being, among other things, nothing but a wall of 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.
  • Production Throwback: Stage 3 of EATEOT 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, EATEOT contains 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.
  • Repetitive Audio Glitch: Every track features samples being looped ad nauseum, often until it's almost unbearable, after which the audio cuts out. Definitely creepy...
  • Sampling: Every track in the Caretaker's catalogue contains samples from various artists in the first half of the 20th century. 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: All of it.
  • 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 treats 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.
  • "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.
  • 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 song.
  • Word Salad Title: The names of the tracks on EATEOT Stage 3 are a mishmash of of song names from the first two stages and An Empty Bliss, representing the Caretaker's memories becoming more confused and scrambled.

May the ballroom remain eternal.
C'est fini.