The Caretaker is one of the most terrifying musical projects in recent memory due to its depiction of the deterioration of the human mind by dementia (including Alzheimer's disease).
- "September 1939" from Selected Memories from the Haunted Ballroom consists of pure noise that sounds like high-pitched screaming. Considering this was the month that World War II began in Europe, it's genuinely a terrifying display of a world being destroyed.
- Much of A Stairway to the Stars is quite creepy, but few tracks so much as "Home" with an absolutely demonic voice that you would very much not want to hear coming from the woods at night. Ironically, the title track is the exact opposite of much of the rest of the album, becoming quite peaceful by the end.
- All of Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia is incredibly unsettling, consisting mainly of electronic dark ambient.
- The cover art of Deleted Scenes / Forgotten Dreams is absolutely disturbing compared to the rest of the early albums, which only depicted plain backgrounds or artworks. It depicts a human face with blackened eyes, which, although nowhere as distorted as the cover arts of later albums, retains the same unnerving feeling. Adding to that is what seems to be a few faint blood streaks on the face and around its neck area.
- Also to note about the album is that it established an early version of the format that Stages 4-6 of Everywhere at the End of Time and the track of Take care. It's a desert out there... would later follow upon. It's nowhere as incoherent as the later albums, though, since it involves abrupt cuts between sections instead of overlapping with each other, with the first two tracks featuring full songs.
- From Persistent Repetition of Phrases you have the ungodly choir of "Poor Enunciation" and the spooky, distant piercing trumpet of "Long Term (Remote)" on what is otherwise a Lighter and Softer album (well, as light and soft as you can get with the Caretaker; it's not exactly Top 40 pop).
An Empty Bliss Beyond this World
- The title track is an Ominous Music Box Tune with a creepy voice that bounces from speaker to speaker. As with "Mental Caverns Without Sunshine", the track is reprised later on the record, only in a slightly more detuned form.
- The piano tracks all have some very deep, ominous vinyl crackling sounds on them. The fact that they're generally short loops that don't go anywhere doesn't help, as it feels as if there's something terrifying just waiting to be uncovered. Considering where the Caretaker went next, it's really not surprising.
- "Mental Caverns Without Sunshine" has no melody except a looping string drone. And it goes away for one track before coming back again. The track was used to great effect in the last video on the mysterious YouTube channel Deeper.
- The cover art (titled "Happy in spite") isn't that scary, but the boulder depicted in it could be interpreted as a failed attempt by the Caretaker to recognize and memorize a face, or at least a person in general if the matchstick is put into count.
Patience (After Sebald) & Extra Patience (After Sebald)
- The entirety of the main soundtrack album to the 2011 film has a thick layer of hiss as opposed to the slightly more friendly vinyl crackle of other projects. On some tracks, it sounds like the music is plunged in the middle of a rainstorm.
- The track "When the dog days were drawing to an end" has a genuinely gorgeous piano loop that is intercut with a deep voice (which, as it turns out, is actually a woman singing, but heavily slowed down).
- Two tracks on the album feature heavy use of vocals, and both are absolutely terrifying. "No one knows what shadowy memories haunt them to this day" has a very fitting title for its ghostly atmosphere and booming voice, and "Now the night is over and dawn is about to break", ironically, sounds as if the night will never end.
- If the main Patience (After Sebald) had some unsettling moments on an otherwise normally melancholic album, the EP Extra Patience (After Sebald) is a frightening listen throughout. It utilizes extensive Backmasking and pitched down vocals that are absolutely demonic.
- Stage 1 is mostly made up of pleasant sounding snippets of ballroom music, but repeated ad nauseum. It just goes on, and on, and on, with seemingly no end to the repetition of only a few sections of a song. In addition to this, the music is subtly distorted, sounding echoed and far away with a grainy sound, as if it's decayed. It alternates between being nice and light and being square in the middle of the Uncanny Valley.
- The opening track, "It's Just a Burning Memory", is a slowed down sample of the album's Leitmotif, Al Bowlly's version of "Heartaches". Even if you know what lies ahead, the sound and mood of the track can be extremely unsettling for any listener.
- The track "Slightly Bewildered" is pitched down significantly more than the rest on the album, giving it an ominous quality. The loop ends with a deep, distorted voice of Layton or Johnstone which might make you jump the first time you hear it.
- The titles of some of the tracks can be rather unnerving. "We Don't Have Many Days", "It's Just a Burning Memory"... they all seem to point towards acknowledging the oncoming terror.
- Just the name of the first track. "A Losing Battle Is Raging".
- The tracks here are more distorted than in Stage 1, even if it isn't quite as chaotic as the later stages.
- The Leitmotif of "Heartaches" takes a darker turn in Stage 2 with "What Does It Matter How My Heart Breaks". Clearly using Seger Ellis' version of the song this time, it's presented with less instruments, more slowed down and has a sadder, more despair-induced tone, making it even more unnerving than the sample used in the first stage. As if that wasn't enough, the sample is noticeably shorter than in the earlier stage, being another subtle but eerie signifier that dementia is taking its toll on the Caretaker's recollection of the tune.
- "Glimpses of Hope in Trying Times" is the creepiest music so far, directly sampled from the "Grand Canyon Suite" by Paul Whiteman but degraded and filled with echo to the point it sounds extremely unnerving.
- "Denial Unraveling" starts out surprisingly calm and serene, before slowly getting more and more overwhelmed with chaotically-mixed together instruments mixed in a way sound anything but calm, slowly escalating to a peak before going back to the initial calm state, before the process repeats until the song's end, with every loop making the calm parts even more eerie than the last time.
- There's a subtle detail about the cover art (titled "Pittor Pickgown in Khatheinstersper") that makes it all the more frightening. The flower vase's handles appear to be shaped like two dancing humanoid figures, but their faces are blurred out. Even at this early stage, has the Caretaker lost the ability to recognize human faces? This is especially supported by the fact that Kirby claimed An Empty Bliss would lie somewhere between Stages 2 and 3.
- This stage's album cover (titled "Hag") is the first one in the series to be outright disturbing. The ones of the first two stages may have been a little bizarre, but were practically abstract. Here... What is this thing? While some have considered it to be a kelp plant, it just looks like a winding mess of entangled, dark strands.
- A number of people have argued that the stage's cover is supposed to be a callback to Stage 2's, given that the bottom part of the figure is notably similar to the flower vase of Stage 2. Stage 3 would depict the vase exploding into chaos, as with how the aforementioned "Back there Benjamin" opens the stage.
- Some have also claimed that the depicted pattern in the figure is supposed to represent the beginning of synapse deterioration in the Caretaker. This is especially noticeable when the cover is edited to a photo negative color scheme, as it resembles the microscopic imagery of synapses.
- The titles of most of the tracks in Stage 3 are jumbled rearrangements of the ones from Stages 1 and 2, as well as An Empty Bliss Beyond this World, reflecting how the memories are becoming entangled and confused.
- The first track, "Back There Benjamin", is a confused mishmash of chaotic, loud music that's sampled from "Goodnight, My Beautiful"—the same track that was sampled on "Libet's Delay" in An Empty Bliss Beyond this World.
- "And Heart Breaks" is another sample of "Heartaches", using a different portion of the song, mixed to sound more confusing, muffled, and haunting than both previous renditions of the tune, sounding more desperate, angry and panicked, rather than happy and nostalgic like the original Stage 1 version or depressing like the Stage 2 version. And to make matters worse, the vinyl crackling right after the song ends sound less like actual vinyl crackles and more like the record is actually burning.
- Even more agonizing is that this isn't just from anywhere in the song; it's the last few measures before the end. Considering that "Heartaches" forms somewhat of a leitmotif for the project, it's easy to see this as the last coherence of a beloved memory starting to fade, all while the Caretaker begins to grow increasingly terrified of its loss...
- "Libet's All Joyful Camaraderie", while playing in a far more grandiose and coherent tone compared to "Back There Benjamin", is equally unnerving; an eerie echo subtly follows the piece from its beginning to its conclusion, and it sounds like the orchestra is becoming increasingly desperate, as if the piece is an audiological representation of the brain throwing up one more line of defense in an attempt to stave off the inevitable.
- "Bewildered in Other Eyes" is creepy on its own, sounding like an off-putting music box tune. What really sells its creepiness factor however, is the title. In a stark contrast to Stage 1's "Into Each Other's Eyes", which implies they are looking into the eyes of a loved one, in "Bewildered in Other Eyes" that recognition is gone. All that is left is confusion and bewilderment.
- Much of the back half of the album is made up of increasingly creepy short tracks with very little of the original sample recognizable:
- The most unsettling one might be "Internal Bewildered World", in which a sample from the Giuseppe Verdi opera Il Trovatore is slowed down to sound like a disembodied ghost.
- "Burning Despair Does Ache" is the last coherent version of "Heartaches" that we hear, and it's unnervingly chilly. A rendition of the Stage 2 version, it starts off sounding normal, until the first key note gets hit, and the song glitches, lingering on said note for several seconds as you can hear it struggling to find the next note to hit, but only hitting random key notes across the song, with every other note floating together in a chaotic mess, as if there's a precious memory there that one just barely can't reach.
- "Aching Cavern Without Lucidity" is a short "song" with a nearly unrecognizable sample turned into a Drone of Dread (which was previously used for "We cannot escape the past" from A Stairway to the Stars). It foreshadows the post-awareness that will soon take over later stages.
- "Mournful Camaraderie", Stage 3's final track, is a droned rendition of "Burning Despair Does Ache" and a gateaway to Stage 4. It sounds like if the Caretaker's remaining coherence and consciousness are trying to retrieve many memories as possible during the calm before the storm but to no avail. After the track ends, the post-awareness begins...
- The tracks of Stages 1-3 were gradually more disturbing as they went on, yes, but they were still music. They had melodies, repeating structures, and mostly made sense. Come Stage 4, as the first post-awareness stagenote , and it's just... noise. Relentless, glitchy, chaotic noise. There are snippets of music you can make out (both Al Bowlly and Seger Ellis' versions of "Heartaches"note being among the easiest to pick up), but not much.
- Stages 1-3 had the tracks titled like actual songs. Stage 4 suddenly drops the traditional naming of tracks and instead titles them after medical terms. "Post Awareness Confusions" just sounds... Cold, detached, medical.
- The cover art of Stage 4 (titled "Giltsholder", pictured above) is uncanny and unnerving like Stage 3's, but you can make something out this time. A human head, facing away from your view. Are they sad? Who are they? Why are they looking away?
- According to Sam Goldner of Tiny Mix Tapes, the person might actually be a bust, and would look like it's smiling if viewed from a distance.
- The section 14 and a half minutes into "H1—Post Awareness Confusions" is called "Hell Sirens"note by the fans for a reason. In terms of sheer terror, it's probably the peak of the series. According to a YouTube comment, the noises sampled within the background are reminiscent of "the horrors of war". And to twist the knife, you may realize that Al Bowlly was killed by a Luftwaffe parachute mine in April 16th, 1941 during World War II. Yikes!
- Many commentators claimed that the "Hell Sirens" represent a battle of World War II in which the Caretaker participated, based on how the majority of the samples used in the albums come from 1920s and 1930s songs. However, considering that the song sampled for this section is the Latin classic "Granada", it's more likely that it represents the Spanish Civil War, potentially depicting one of the bombing raids like Guernica. If the Caretaker character is British, it's possible that they served in a volunteer brigade like George Orwell, and the sirens are their memories of being in the war.
- What makes the "Hell Sirens" segment especially effective is the fact that other than the initial shock factor, it doesn't feel much like a Jumpscare but rather a horror that slowly, almost beautifully, unfolds. By the time you get to the actual sirens, you stop feeling fear and just feel horrific sadness brought on by this sonic hellscape. Cosmic Horror, par excellence.
- "I1—Temporary Bliss State" is a far more calming, relaxed track compared to the other ones. It's still terrifying, but comparatively less than the other tracks.
- Stage 5 is where all of the remaining coherence is thrown out the window. Nothing makes sense. Nothing is coherent. It's just chaos.
- The cover this time around (titled "Eptitranxisticemestionscers Desending") is abstract to the point of unrecognizability, even though there's a speculation that the figure within the cover is a ballerina walking down a staircase. Whatever it is, its extended arm, tightly gripping a cane-like shape, as well as what appears to be flowing fabric behind it indicate it at least was human... originally.
- There's also the fact that the figure itself upon the stairs is vaguely shaped like a brain, which appears to be in a state of heavy decay and deterioration, complete with the "legs" of the figure connecting just where the brain stem does.
- The "Hell Sirens" return, but even they sound distant and decayed, which brings its own sort of existential dread. Not even the horrors of the previous stage are distinct anymore, being replaced by new sounds even more horrifying than them.
- "K1—Advanced Plaque Entanglements" occasionally brings back pleasant ballroom music samples overlaying a pipe organ. It doesn't last for long before the chaos suddenly cuts back in. The first time this happens can be a potent Jump Scare.
- The end of the track features a disembodied voice saying words that sound completely unintelligible followed by a heavily distorted mandolin. It becomes less so when you realize that it's just the introduction to the mandolin sample, said by John Philip Sousa: "This selection is a mandolin solo by Mister James Fitzgerald".
- There is a short, 30-second segment in this stage sampling Dick Powell's "Was It A Dream?" that, while surprisingly calm and clear compared to the rest of the stage, still manages to be absolutely horrifying by the sheer fact that by this point, you instinctively know that this brief blissful moment will disappear as quickly as it came, and give way to the same horrors we've been enduring for around 2 hours by that point. In any of the early stages, it would come off as calming, but here, it sounds like a Hope Spot at best, and absolutely heartwrenchingly eerie at worst.
- "Synapse Retrogenesis" starts out as an oddly calm piece of ambient, being a short break from the chaos within Stage 5. While it doesn't sound very creepy (as one might expect), it still manages being disturbing especially due to the static returning 8 minutes later, tainting the atmosphere for the rest of the track. Meaning that the calm before the storm is about to end as tumult approaches while things start going downhill even further, until...
- "Sudden Time Regression Into Isolation" is (by far) the bleakest track in Stage 5. It's full of heavily distorted samples layered on top of each other before being followed by what sounds like reversed, mangled circus music. At the 13:35 mark, it gets consumed by walls of cold, static noise during the last 9 minutes before Stage 6 takes over. "The unfamiliar may sound and feel familiar", indeed.
- According to a YouTube comment, this really summarizes the implication of the Caretaker becoming an empty shell of their former self, due to their dementia worsening during the last five stages.Memories haunt and haunt, chilling the tortured soul.There's is no past of future. All is futile, all they can do is suffer.They're drowning, and drifting off into a sleep...A moment of clarity arrives, but good things can only last for so long.Face expressionless, eyes empty, happiness gone.They were a person, and now all is left is ashes of a person, scattered.There's no hope.Heart, it aches.My care for you, only bounds me towards this world.Your kiss, I don't remember.I wish it was, just a burning memory.
- According to a YouTube comment, this really summarizes the implication of the Caretaker becoming an empty shell of their former self, due to their dementia worsening during the last five stages.
- Probably most horrifying of all is that scattered throughout Stage 5, you can hear brief snippets of heavily distorted voices sampled from the various songs used, all of which sounding like the desperate attempts of a broken person to make sense of the world around them. These snippets include things like "what", "where", "was it-", "who are you" and "help", and all of them are absolutely horrifying to consider the significance of within the context of the album.
- Stage 6 is the definition of Nothing Is Scarier. Just Kirby's description of it is enough to make your stomach drop.Post-Awareness Stage 6 is without description.
- The cover art (titled "Necrotomigaud") is the empty backend of a canvas with four crossed pieces of painter's tape. The implications are horrific—as if the Caretaker can no longer recognize anything like an image.
- This can also be interpreted as the Caretaker being reduced to a completely blank canvas, and the fact that the other side is invisible to the viewer shows how all of their past experiences are no longer accessible to them, due to the most severe phase of dementia having completely destroyed their ability to think and remember.
- The song titles are back! Let's see, we've got "A Confusion So Thick You Forget Forgetting", followed by "A Brutal Bliss Beyond This Empty Defeat", then "Long Decline Is Over"... and finally, "Place in the World Fades Away". Oh crap, the song titles are back.
- Each track, with the exception of the last six minutes of the final one, is a Drone of Dread with very few snippets of music. It sounds more empty than space. The only "recognizable" instruments are touches of piano here and there and horns slowed down to sound like the moans of the dead and dying. Many samples from the previous stages, including "Heartaches" and the "Hell Sirens", return here, but with a heavily fainted sound that makes them almost undistinguishable. The overall atmosphere is purely bleak and lifeless, which is why it's often described by critics as the most horrifying dark ambient piece ever put to music.
- The abrupt cut during the final track that ends the organ drone. It's just so... Instant.
- The last six minutes featuring ''St Luke Passion, BWV 246's aria "Laßt mich ihn nur noch einmal küssen" aren't scary in the same way as the rest of the album, but they should be here because of the sheer existential dread they cause. Especially the last minute of silence, representing the Caretaker's death.
- While it doesn't reach the same Hell Is That Noise factor as Stage 5 of Everywhere at the End of Time, Everywhere, an Empty Bliss features a couple of unreleased works that are pretty unnerving in their own. Also, the tracks (and their titles) can give you the impression that they're the Caretaker's missing memories after Stage 3, but horribly entangled and disoriented right before everything goes downhill upon reaching Stage 4.
- The evidence that it's a transtition between Stages 3 and 4 is made stronger with the full cover art from the album's altered edition (titled "Pm, why bees are very silent"), since it has the same floor as Stage 3 (only blue instead of green), and the painting is of a similar style to Stage 4. There are dead bees on the floor, which can interpreted as the last coherent memories from Stage 3 being self-destructed at this point, thus starting the post-awareness phase in the Caretaker.
- "Glimpses of life denial" is a distorted sample of what seems to be a child talking before a deep, garbled voice starts chanting while accompained by a loud, buzzing noise until what appears to be a gunshot is heard at the very end of the track, which also doubles as a Jump Scare for any unprepared listeners. What probably makes the track even scarier, however, is the near complete lack of any actual song sampling, and besides the very eerie whistling, itself being rather bone-chilling from the way it's mixed, is completely devoid of any melody at all. Nightmare Retardant ensues when you listen closer; its actually a badly damaged recording of a rather jaunty spoken poem entitled "Santa Claus in Holland", told by a woman with a rather pronounced accent.
Take care. It's a desert out there...
- While Take care. It's a desert out there... is somewhat lighter than the rest of the Caretaker albums overall, since its single track aims to a more naturalized ambient music, it's just as dreadful as the end of Stage 6. The nature of its sound can make you an idea that it's a continuation of Stage 6 after the Caretaker's death, since it has such a feeling of afterlife. Not helped by the fact that some parts of the post-awareness stages of Everywhere (even though it was released before all of them) can be heard in the background.
Non-Caretaker albums by Kirby:
- This album mangles several hit love songs into things far more ominous. While there's a bit of humor behind the project, it's mostly buried under multiple layers of pure unease—his reworks range from deliberately invoking the Uncanny Valley effect on beloved singles to running songs through so many effects they turn into bleak passages of dark ambient. It's a standout even among his work in the moniker.
- Pig is an album that for its relatively short 13-minute timespan features mostly the the chaotic recording of many pigs feeding, squealing and screeching as they feednote , in a chaotic mess. Around halfway through the album, it briefly switches to a calmer tone as the pig noises fade out, and you instead get to hear Kirby calmly talking with the owner of the pigs for several minutes... Before cutting back the chaotic pig noises, which is then later mixed with several tracks layered on top of each other to create 2 minutes of pure pig noise hell before the album finally ends.
- And then there's the Latin written on the album cover; while it's mostly quite a surreal passage about being "plump and well cared for when you want to smile" and other vague statements that tie into the farming theme, it opens with this statement, which could easily be read in a rather ominous way:Believe me, it all dawns on you, your last day. A welcome hour will come which will not be expected.