Friday, 18 October 2013

The Stranger - Watching Dead Empires In Decay (Modern Love)

Review by Bouncing Brinnington

'The journey of making the work may be unimportant to me, but the journey the work can take you on, if you're honest and have trust in yourself and are willing to make mistakes and take risks, can always take us to the stars. The endless struggle for survival has strange and incredible rewards.' - Leyland Kirby, 2011

And what a survivor Leyland Kirby is...

Just a fraction of his CV reads thus:
                                                     Chris De Burgh's roadie 1996
                                                     Aphex Twin's technical assistant (1996-7)
                                                     caretaker of the Holiday Inn, Stockport (1998-2000)
                                                     Help The Aged radio DJ (2002-3). It is said that during an in-house appearance at the Manchester branch he found the 78s which formed the basis of his music as The Caretaker.
As few names he has recorded under:
                                                       corKscrEWhair disIntegraTion
It pays to create as many pseudonyms as possible because if some of the music is crap the chances are that very few people will have heard it.  Not that Kirby has produced any crap; it's all brilliant. All of it. Even the 600 tracks he made and gave away every day of the year 2006, which few have heard, but as a conceptual piece of sound art, it knocks spots off Christian Marclay's puny efforts to curry favour with the hedge fund Art collectors, eh?

Kirby lives in Berlin, on the 43rd floor of a Commie-built tower block, where the furniture consists of old crates, one of which is featured on the cover of Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was. He lives mainly on mouldy Blutwurst and spends all day, every day, making music (with monthly breaks to get his hair permed). Compared to life in Manchester, it is a joyful experience.

Kirby has made a complete cult of himself and that is not easy. You try.
Try recording and releasing music every day for a whole year and see where it gets you.
Try adopting a million monikers and making a mess of If I Were A Rich Man. Go on. I dare you.

No-one starts with a view to achieving cult status. If they did, they would fail. True cult status is the result of a certain attitude, character, vision and intent. It is more than merely failing to reach the attention of the sheeple. The ideal cult collector is the bespectacled curator of avant-garde electronica who thrives on limited edition cassette-only releases, as well as suitcase-sized metal box sets such as The Complete Conrad Schnitzler.

To be 'unknown' is certainly not good enough. Look at all those poor souls who record and release on Bandcamp only but never get reviewed at Resident Advisor. They are having to endure permanent obscurity, the kind they languish (as opposed to revel) in because they remain unknown by Influential People. These are crucial to worthwhile cult status because they are label-owners (cool labels, that is), journalists, and musicians with a large enough fan base to render their word significant. Having a crazy hairstyle helps, as does leading the kind of life which makes J. D. Salinger look like a social whore. 

Leyland Kirby is a genius. Not because he dares to have hair like Roger Daltrey in the 70s (although that's admirably brave), but because he really does take risks and take us to the stars, albeit sometimes mangled, fucked-up ones that prove virtually uninhabitable unless you wear especially protective helmets. He delights in making music which ranges from the sublimely soporific (as The Caretaker) to the gnarled headfuck of V/VM and all shades in-between under various monikers.

Now this album on the painfully hip Modern Love label. It almost looks like Kirby has brushed his hair (I don't know how you brush a perm, and thinking about it, he has probably shaved it all off by now for fear of being mistaken for The Gaslmap Killer), donned his most up-to-date gear and walked out into the light of mainstream (underground) cool.

And this title? Watching Dead Empires In Decay? It sounds like something one of those Bandcamp unknowns would come up with. Yet once true cult status is achieved, it's possible to get away with any title one fancies. He could have called it Hauntology Volume One, or Ghost In The VHS Machine, or Blue Oyster Occult, Don't Fear The Bleeper. Because he is Leyland Kirby and people will pay attention regardless of the title.

Thankfully, it is a work of greatness, even though I suspect he spent several months recording it on a tropical island in studios owned by Andy Votel. Where Are Our Monsters Now, Where Are Our Friends? has all the woozy atmosphere of cross-channel ferry trip during rough seas whilst an inebriated Gary Numan tribute band entertain you with instrumental versions of his repertoire.

Grey Day Drift even has a very conventional, minimalist beat, conjured up, no doubt, from knackered old gear. It's as if Modern Love said 'Make us an album, but we want some beats' so he produced these, thus creating the sonic equivalent of Godard's leering lens lingering over Bardot's butt to appease executives. Not that I suspect for one minute that ML made such demands.

The drum sounds (supplied by samples from old zombie B-movies, probably) are reminiscent of those created by Demdike Stare early in their career. But Kirby is not about to wear that influence on his sleeve, should it even exist (the ML connection?). No, sir. He does more than enough to undermine the notion of a rhythm-tracks-plus-cheap FX by sprinkling everything with dust gathered from behind those wooden crates. No matter how simple the spectral melodies, he works his magical trick of supplying top quality sound degradation (if that's not a misnomer) to virtually everything. About To Enter A Strange New Period is a good example. We Scarcely See Sunlight ticks all h*untological boxes, complete with horror moans and drones, but made special by sparse percussion which sound like a half-asleep Jazz drummer who can barely manage to brush the cymbal.

Being on Modern Love, Kirby will no doubt gain new listeners with this release. Should any then dig deeper they'll find that the seemingly endless struggle to hear it all provides strange and incredible rewards.

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