Leyland Kirby: Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was (3CD, History Always Favours The Winners, October 2009)


There are a lot of records out there at the moment which have that crinkly wash of old strings and static thing going on. Few of them are as lovely as this. I have the triple CD (it was previously released as three double LPs) and once I start listening it’s hard not to gorge myself on the whole lot. What’s so special about it, for me, is that through all the layers of fuzz it remains hauntingly melodic.

James Leyland Kirby is possibly most famous as V/Vm. This is really nothing like V/Vm. It is, I believe, more like his work as The Caretaker, though I’m not so familiar with that. (Wikipedia tells me that The Caretaker was inspired by the haunted ballroom scene in The Shining, which sounds about right.)

Anyway, what we have here is a load of old 78s, processed and looped and fading in and out of a warm organic hum. Sometimes I thought I recognized a tune (was that something by Wagner, possibly from Lohengrin?). Sometimes, it just felt the sort of thing I might once have known, like an old song a grandparent might have sung when I was tiny. It conjures up a wistfully nostalgic atmosphere which is, at times, very moving. The strings crackle, the piano has that slightly wonky tinny sound which old mono piano recordings have. It hints at forgotten memories of a simpler time. (The three discs are called When We Parted My Heart Wanted To Die; Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was; and Memories Live Longer Than Dreams. I think we can see what he is getting at here.)

Parts of this remind me of Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking Of The Titanic. Parts resemble a far grubbier, denser version of The KLF’s Chill Out. At one point, the jangly piano floating into the mix put me in mind of some eerie lysergic Western (possibly even The Prisoner episode Living In Harmony).

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that despite all this, it is my no means entirely looking backwards. There are times when the looping of one note or chord creates a sense of urgency. I suppose it’s the fact that my brain knows where the melody wants to go, and each refusal to go there ramps up the tension. The original tune would have established a key, moved away from it to create a sense of motion, and then resolved back to it to create a sense of completion. Here, that process is teased apart, the notes are left hanging, echoing, or repeating. You could almost describe it as deconstruction, I suppose. But the key thing is that it, eventually, it always does resolve. The effect is strangely uplifting, in a way: it implies that there is always hope.

I bought this from Boomkat. They describe it as Home Listening / Modern Classical / Ambient.

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