ARTIST: THE CARETAKER
ALBUM: AN EMPTY BLISS BEYOND THIS WORLD
LABEL (YEAR): HISTORY ALWAYS FAVOURS THE WINNERS (2011)
FOR FANS OF: V/VM, KIASMOS, JEFRE CANTU-LEDESMA
Words by Alastair Pearson
James Leyland Kirby's 2011 album emerged partly in response to research conducted by the Boston University School of Medicine into the effects of music on the ability of people living with Alzheimer's disease to recall information. Researchers found a higher rate of accurate recall to sung information accompanied by music than to unaccompanied spoken information. Rather than suggesting the power of music to form memories, the research indicated that for those living with Alzheimer's disease, the 'complex neural networks' engaged in the processing of musical information 'are affected at a slower rate... than those areas of the brain typically associated with memory.’ In Bliss, muffled, disorientated phrases sampled from old 78s segue spasmodically against the comforting crackle of well-worn lacquer, offering a hand to hold through the maze of memories evoked by the faded playfulness of Kirby's source material.
Bliss is about memory, time and culture. From the moment the record starts you are dragged back in time by melodies from the ballroom, yet the album's scrambled continuity places the work firmly in the present. Having never lived in a time to have formed memories of formal dances with tuxedos and ballgowns, I nevertheless feel nostalgia for a time I have never lived in, for the swells and spikes that would evoke memories of a velvet-gloved hand upon my shoulder and the padding of patent leather shoes across thick hotel carpets. These are the memories of people living with Alzheimer's today, and Kirby's poignant work raises questions as to the sounds our memories will recall in years to come. In the age of instant 'capture and recollection via the internet', what will future generations point to as culturally nostalgic? One can only hope Miley Cyrus will be top of the list.