Wednesday, October 28, 2009


It has recently come to my eagle-eye'd attention that some of you - and I can scarcely believe this to be true - still haven't bought James Kirby's recent releases.

Of course, I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and put it down to a hectic life-style or anterior retrograde amnesia, but this flakey, shipshod behaviour won't be tolerated in the long-term, y'hear? Economic crisis notwithstanding, I expect y'all to rectify this, um, oversight soon as poss.

If not, I'll be namin' names and it won't be a pretty sight.

Oh no.

But, how - oh, dear God, how? - can you ever possibly bear to be w/out these albums? Joking aside, they are pretty fucking wonderful. If there was any justice in this world, then James would be a Mercury Prize nominee. I mean, Bat For Lashes, puh-leaze.

"Sadly, The Future is No Longer What It Was."

Tracks like "when did our dreams and futures drift so far apart?" and "not even nostalgia is as good as it used to be" superficially revisit classic Eno-era Ambient (more specifically, that period where composition/song-writing just begins to dissolve into amorphous drift) - using recognisable tropes like hesitant, deliberately heart-tugging piano-motifs and faux-DX synth-patches that are reverb'd out into near-infinite decay - but James' own unique take generally has a darker emotional undertow than The Bald One's own undertakings.

JLK is far too interested in process to fall into mere pastiche or parody; he can't resist adding his own spectral twists or forcing a chord to pitch-slide itself into something unsettling or even slightly dissonant. Sounds rub up against each other and not always in a nice way; there are tensions, disagrements, detours. If this is Coffee-Table, then it has stains and fag-burns; it incorporates its own mistakes, absorbs them into its structure, in an Oblique Strategies kinda way, of course.

There's a beautiful, quasi-melancholic side to the two opening tracks, for sure, but the music often goes somewhere unexpected - chords don't follow their expected flight-path or a sudden wash of bass undertow almost sinks your nice little Ikea raft. Music For Hammocks, this ain't.

The piano notes seem to suggest melody-lines, but when you actually listen carefully you find it's an illusion - what you thought was the start of some Satie-esque ditty has dissolved before it started; it's collapsed into strings of disconnected notes. A simulacrum of a song. It's like someone trying to piece together a melody from memory; failing; starting again; losing their place; trying again...all the while fooling us into thinking that we're hearing a tune. But it's a broken song. An echo of something we might have once heard. The notes and the neural-connections have evaporated. Disappeared. The gaps in the music becoming as important - as poignant - as the sounds that we do hear.

The title-track is about as un-Eno-ish as it's possible to get: there's an initial rumble of echoed synth distortion that reminds me of the intro of "Nag Nag Nag" which then slowly implodes into a soundthing that resembles toothpaste: it's soft, cleansing, artificially sickening-yet-sweet; a memory of someone I once loved but can't bear to think about anymore; a soured sound turning round and round in my head, decaying; a swirl of rotten candyfloss.

A record like this could only be made now; James deliberately plays with distortion and sonic.artifact, allowing certain sounds to flatten at the top-end; this playfulness becomes part of his palette, his patina, his patter, his artillery.

And there it is again, that trademark thing he does where he allows his sounds to slowly de-pitch, detune themselves and unravel as the track slowly progresses along its imparts a vague sense of, I dunno, queasiness. A sugary ache. A distance, a sense of descent into something...but what? Yourself? Your memories?

Eno would never use a soft, mid-song bottom-end growl like this. For a minute or two it feels as if we're trawling the bottom of some mile-deep oceanic abyss, crawling along - a bottom-feeder prowling in the dark, tendrils and mouth-parts sifting the mud for edible debris until a synthpatch (re-)appears, like a faint a ray of light drifting down through the murky water. A thin smear of sound that wavers and wobbles like a tender current. And we slowly float upwards again from the depths...

Remarkable stuff and I'm still only three tracks in on the first album.

"stay light, there is a rainbow a coming" is all subliminal sub-bass grind and roil, like stowing away on some vast earth-drilling machine manned by angels...a colossal subterranean ship corkscrewing its way through a superdense Dantean para.inferno. Ghostly, ghastly and corrosive: so very, very solid. A Halo of Rust. Music of the Inner Spheres.

I'm going to stop now; I think you get the idea.

It's a really crass thing to say, I know, but if you're a writer or an artist then this album is a superb, infinitely re-usable resource: it's perfect for thinking, for imagining, for dreaming...

It invokes memories of The Unrecallable. Thoughts of Times and Places that fell down between the cracks, that never quite existed.

Nothing else around right now comes this close to getting it sooo right.

Except his next two albums.

More on this soon.


At 5:33 am, Blogger db said...

I feel a little bit like a douche for waiting on the 3cd set (cash is tight here at the compound), but when that drops I'm all over it. There really isn't anybody doing it better than Kirby right now.

At 6:42 am, Blogger BFND said...

excellent review, kek. brings out a few details i had yet to recognise. will listen again with these in mind..

At 2:23 pm, Blogger Fritz Bogott said...

A) Aye aye, purchasing now.

B) From my oneiric playlist, I frequently reach for Ross Daly's long-format modal improvisations. I could equally believe that they might put your teeth on edge, but they work reliably for me.

At 7:12 pm, Blogger I am not Kek-w said...

O, you lovely, lovely people.

"Support Independent Artists": yep, that's a kinda mantra-motto here at Kid Shirt.


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