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Leyland Kirby
Eager To Tear Apart The Stars Joseph Burnett , October 21st, 2011 04:32

Without wanting to delve too deep into the realms of emotion, there seems to be a place that most, if not all, people can go to - in their heads, naturally - where the confluence of memory and imagination isolates them in a strange mixture of safety and loneliness. A sort of internal realm of melancholia and wistfulness, if you will.

For me, it's the top floor of some unidentified tower, looking out over an anonymous city in the dead of night. Generally this is London: as everything closes early here, you can quickly find yourself staring at empty offices, pubs, museums, churches and theatres illuminated by unnecessary lights long after most people have deserted the streets in favour of cosy living rooms or windowless clubs. And this mental space (which is only tangentially linked to actual physical locations) is somewhere my mind instantly flits to in response to certain music. I assume that for others this space could perhaps be a tidy suburban street, or a dusty country lane, or an isolated mountain lake. You only have to watch the films of Wong Kar-Wai, Walter Salles, Sofia Coppola, Francois Ozon or Hou Hsiao-Hsien, which often feature prominent soundtracks, to know that the beautiful weight of melancholia - perhaps the most inchoate of emotions, linked to grief, memory, wistfulness, sadness, joy and other more tangible emotions - is almost essential in the expression of humanity on a purely emotional level.

Leyland Kirby is someone who has tapped into that place where melancholia is all-enveloping and overwhelming, channeled it, and delivered it unto his audience with an almost bloody-minded determination to not flinch in the face of such palpable emotion. His phenomenal work as The Caretaker is an emotionally charged exploration of the disintegration of memory, using scratched vinyl as a representation of the blurred lines in the reminiscences of Alzheimer's sufferers, and indeed of anyone clutching at the dissolving straws of incoherent thought. But under the Leyland Kirby moniker, he thrusts aside the context to focus on heartbreaking melodies, and the unadulterated, troubling effect they can have on the psyche. As I wrote in a review of Ezekiel Honig's Folding In On Itself, beauty can be as damaging as it is rapturous, and Leyland Kirby has made the bold decision to hone in on this uneasy, yet gorgeous, balance.

In lesser hands, such a deliberately overwrought approach would (and has) quickly become maudlin. 'This Is The Story Of Paradise Lost' tugs remorselessly at the heart-strings, drifting as it does on a sea of piano notes that would have gladly been seized upon by Mahler or Satie. But the track, a nine-minute funereal masterpiece, follows hot on the heels of the discordant opener 'The Arrow of Time;, which sets a tone that goes beyond sadness and into the sinister and introspective environs of dark ambient. Yet even if 'This Is The Story Of Paradise Lost' juxtaposes its mournful piano with rumbling electronic effects, a dusty crackle and hazy synth patterns. Kirby refuses to play the sadness game, bringing a tension and abstraction to the piece that manages to make it sound both ancient, in the manner of The Caretaker's experiments, but perhaps also a deeper, more spiritual sense, similar to the music of ritual; and furiously palpable. Like a twisted memory flailing its way to the forefront of one's consciousness, whether we want it to or not...

Throughout Eager To Tear Apart The Stars, Kirby toys with the preconceptions of ambient music and throws up musical ideas that manage to sound both familiar and emotionally unexpected. 'No Longer Distance Than Death' is a subdued rumble not unlike the darker moments of Eno's On Land album, or the creaking horror music of Xela and Svarte Greiner, as nocturnal synths fill all the space of the mix, almost industrial in their sinister omnipresence.

The album concludes with two ten-minute epics that are so emotionally charged it can be draining. 'They Are All Dead, There Are No Skip At All', by its very title, feels defeated, as laden sub-techno beats battle with a synthetic miasma locked somewhere between the Blade Runner soundtrack and Music for Airports. Repeated phrases lose all coherence under sonic mulch, yet all through a tinkle of bells tries to elevate the darkly cosmic soup into something transcendent. On 'My Dream Contained A Star', Kirby does just that. The grubby synths fall away, to be replaced by an elegiac piano dueting with sampled violins. It's a sparsely beautiful end to what may just be the best album of the year thus far.

Like his fellow Briton Philip Jeck, Kirby refuses to let the intellectual considerations inherent in his music (and there are many, notably the fact that 'Leyland' is actually his grandfather's name, once again bringing up considerations of memory and identity) intrude on the emotional power of his work. For me, Eager to Tear Apart the Stars immediately evokes that place, that tired balcony supporting yet another destitute soul as it stares out over tired, darkened streets, drowning in that intoxicating melancholia. It's the music of inchoate beauty and lost love. Of troubled emotions and fragile thoughts.