Best Albums of 2018 (Part 2)

by 5:4

i said yesterday how 2018 had been a very good year – just how good is encapsulated in these, the best of the best of the year’s albums, each one of which will do sublimely wonderful things to your ears.

20 | Computer Magic – Danz

It feels as if i’ve been listening to Danielle Johnson’s music forever. i can still vividly remember hearing ‘And Lastly, the Kids Are Growing Up’ for the first time many, many years ago, when she called herself Danz and released her music as free MP3s, and from the outset her blend of retro-styled synths and natural, unrefined singing were strikingly different from anyone else. Over the last few years, as she’s developed as Computer Magic, she’s managed to become more sophisticated without sacrificing the essence of her sound. As with all her music, Danz sounds like an album that’s been discovered on a decades-old tape somewhere, and subsequently spruced-up and remastered. It sparkles and shines, brightly, but through the gauze of a VHS filter. However, while in much of Johnson’s previous work the retro stylings felt like a carefully-struck aesthetic pose, here they’re sublimated by the keenness of her song-writing. Put simply, the songs are front and centre throughout Danz, songs that range in their scope from the intimate to the infinite, from the soil to the stars, yet always grounded in humanity due to Johnson’s exquisitely fragile, ethereal singing. [Digital – free d/l]

19 | Gottfried Huppertz – Metropolis (The Complete Original Motion Picture Score)

Undoubtedly the oldest music on this list, it’s taken 91 years for Gottfried Huppertz’s complete score of Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis to be released in its complete form. An abridged, 77-minute edition was made available in 2011, but Pan Classics – following up on the fabulous job they did with Huppertz’s score for Lang’s Die Nibelungen a few years ago (reviewed here) – have finally released the unexpurgated score in all its 144-minute glory, once again performed by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony with Frank Strobel at the helm. It’s an extraordinarily masterful complement to Lang’s silent man-versus-machine narrative, Huppertz utilising leitmotifs and a mixture of melodic and rhythmic themes for the main characters and situations to form the firmament of the musical drama. Drawing heavily on German high romanticism, though rarely sounding overtly derivative, even more than in Die Nibelungen one can hear in the score for Metropolis the very origins of film music, in the process illustrating with startling clarity either how much movie scores have stayed the same for the last century, and/or how far Huppertz was ahead of his time. Either way, Metropolis is a dazzling, heartbreaking and revelatory thrill ride. [CD/Digital]

18 | Ryoji Ikeda – Music For Percussion

The most obvious thing these works clarify is Ikeda’s indebtedness to minimalism: the opening section of Body Music [For Duo], featuring isolated hand-claps that slowly coalesce into a concrete rhythmic pattern, could hardly evoke more instantly Steve Reich’s seminal Clapping Music. Yet where Reich was presenting something nascent, germinal, arguably more a concept than a deeply engaging composition, Ikeda’s Music for Percussion is a logical extension and, more importantly, an analogue of his work in electronics. Those hand-claps are swiftly supplemented with an assortment of thigh slaps and foot slams to elicit the same kind of stripped-back timbral palette employed in his intricately rhythmic electronic work. This connection is reinforced in the three parts of Metal Music, using triangles, crotales and cymbals to echo piercing pin-prick blips, beating effects of extended sine tones in close proximity and shifting bands of coloured noise. By turns fascinating and gorgeous, Music For Percussion feels like a reclamation and revivification of the hitherto tired and moribund entity that is minimalism. Perhaps there’s hope for it yet. [CD]

17 | Toivo Tulev – Magnificat

If there’s one thing that typifies Toivo Tulev’s music – distinguishing it from pretty much every other Estonian composer at the moment – it’s a relentless grip that only intensifies at it progresses. That’s emphatically the case with the six, mainly vocal, works on this disc, performed by the Latvian Radio Choir directed by Kaspars Putniņš. At his most mild, as heard in Tanto gentile, Tulev nonetheless taps fully into the overwhelming love expressed by Dante. Once begun it never lets up, the music emerging like a vast unbroken expanse of tapestry that mirrors the emotional extremes in the words. But Tulev’s music is usually more conflicted than this: in the 8-voice Suvine Vihm (‘summer rain’), he mingles a renaissance inclination with a rich interpretation of consonance to create a sublime form of madrigal, subsequently troubled by texts alluding to pain and destruction that cause the music to become undone. And at the other end of the spectrum, in I Said, Who Are You? – He Said, You – Tulev using a countertenor to give a voice to words from Mansur Al-Hallaj and T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets – one encounters a level of impassioned outpouring that’s positively intimidating. Tulev’s fresh take on the text from Dowland’s Flow, my tears, though less muscular, is if anything even more acute in its melancholy. It’s as if two or three separate settings were overlapping at once, vying for dominance, combining to form a multi-faceted cry of the most exquisitely elegiac distress. [CD/Digital]

16 | Coppice – Surreal Air Fortress

“Even making allowances for Coppice’s unpredictability, Surreal Air Fortress came as a genuine surprise. There are words! They sing!! … the essence of the two tracks on the album undeniably fits within an expanded notion of ‘song’. Each takes the form of a triptych, only the first of which, Privacy and Difference, contains words. The opening section establishes a paradigm for the whole album, specifically an intriguing lack of clarity about whether it’s the duo or their apparatus that’s the driving force, making most of the decisions. Indeed, ‘decisions’ may not really be the best word, as one of the key attributes of Surreal Air Fortress overall is incidentality: a strong sense that the collection of pulsed episodes we pass through – to call them ‘beats’ would be absurd, and even describing the music as ‘rhythmic’ is stretching a point – have emerged inadvertently as a by-product of the literal machinations of the equipment. … i love how liminal this music is, how it flirts at the fringes of what we understand about the structures and elements of ‘song’, pushing and pulling at the limits of familiarity to create music that, when you take a step back from it, is in fact astonishingly strange and uncanny. … maybe Surreal Air Fortress is best described as ‘inadvertent music’. Coppice have always complicated our ability to parse and understand exactly what we’re hearing, and here they’ve taken that to a sublime new level.” (reviewed in June) [Vinyl]

15 | Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir – Choral Works by Schnittke & Pärt

“Performances and recordings of [Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat and Nunc dimittis] are plentiful, so it’s no small thing when i say that this is, hands down, the best rendition of them i have ever heard. Conductor Kaspars Putniņš avoids any kind of pushing of the tempo, allowing the music to move along at its own pace, and he also makes no excessive dynamic demands on the choir either. The result is quintessential Pärt, solemn and passionate, capturing the ‘inverted praise’ of the Mag and the beautiful mix of tiredness and relief in the Nunc … the performance of [Alfred Schnittke‘s Psalms of Repentance] is staggeringly transparent, which, for better or worse, exacerbates the Psalms’ impact. Yet while there’s something unavoidably depressing and wearying about the texts’ fundamental outlook, Schnittke manages to locate penumbral light in these pools of otherwise infinite black. And sometimes, even when he doesn’t, as in the wordless humming of the final psalm – the whole choir seemingly suspended in liquid – the hypnotic effect he creates is absolutely stunning.” (reviewed in August) [CD/Digital]

14 | Michael Cutting – Stills

Cutting’s work has made a strong impression in previous years at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. Although this first disc devoted to his music is relatively brief (26 minutes), it goes a long way to expanding one’s appreciation of his outlook and practice. The brevity extends to both the album’s presentation – the only notes describe the apparatus: “music with reel to reel tape machines, a fender rhodes, feedback and a sine-tone signal generator” – and to the individual tracks, each of which is a concise examination of a particular process or soundworld. This is music that’s not so much played as clunked and glitched into existence, in which the role of the performer is rendered ambiguous: it’s never clear whether what we’re hearing is a live or pre-recorded element. Together with the music’s delicate simplicity and tendency to become gently distorted, this lends Stills the sense that it might have been created by the devices themselves in a miraculous moment of self-awareness. To an extent there are ambient qualities to these pieces, though Cutting consistently avoids letting the music ever become wan or passive, resulting in a unique kind of rudimentary, mechanical, analogue beauty. [CD/Digital]

13 | James Newton Howard – Red Sparrow (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

For Red Sparrow, one of the year’s most fearlessly nasty – at times, almost exploitation-level – movies, James Newton Howard has channelled the same kind of high romanticism that typified many of Jerry Goldsmith’s more intensely claustrophobic late scores (think The Fly or Basic Instinct). Howard’s melodic writing throughout is full-blooded and, in the best sense, melodramatic, given extra weight – and just a hint of flamboyance – in its opening and closing movements through Esa-Pekka Salonen’s conducting. Even when it recedes into shadow, Howard ensures the music maintains an earnest watchfulness, and at the opposite extreme, in many of its most heavyweight moments the orchestra is often surprisingly lithe and dance-like, not only evoking the ballerina origins of Jennifer Lawrence’s Dominika Egorova (the titular ‘sparrow’) but also the intricate moves and counter-moves of international espionage. A masterpiece of modern movie music that works equally well as a complex and engrossing symphonic suite. [CD/Digital]

12 | Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears

Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth’s first album, 2016’s I, Gemini, was impressive most due to its mixture of hefty ambitions and cheeky, even cocky, unconventionality. There was something endearing about its heartfelt, lo-fi character (like a home-grown rethinking of the CocoRosie aesthetic), but on I’m All Ears they’ve added multiple layers of gloss and sophistication that transform their songs into extravagant anthems that convey both affection and attitude. It’s fascinating to hear how their songs struggle to be contained within the conventions of structure: verses roam and ramble, choruses eventually arrive by way of excursions into parallel episodes, seemingly taken on a whim, and harmony gets itself confused leading to beautiful collisions of major and minor. I’m All Ears sounds raw and cooked at the same time, bringing extra refinement and maturity to the duo’s music without ever letting go of their instinctively exuberant lyrical drive. [Vinyl/CD/Digital]

11 | irr. app. (ext.) – A Transfigured System

Matt Waldron’s latest venture into his own uniquely terrifying and beguiling landscapes is one his finest creations. i’ve never been entirely sure whether the way each irr. app. (ext.) release operates is to explore its respective world, or simply to present it, almost in a quasi-anthropological way, with our subsequent listening and relistening the actual act of exploration. Either way, what one finds within the four ‘Dispositions’ that comprise A Transfigured System – each of which concerns a different “thing” – is to some degree a (re)synthesis of quintessential irr. app. (ext.) elements. Dense accumulations of discrete sonic entities and detritus powerfully projected over semi-dronal fundamentals, either as sheer walls or convoluted processionals, sounding at once utterly immovable and overwhelming despite every inch of their makeup being in a constant state of flux. Palettes of sound objects that entirely blur the distinction between being tangible field recordings and something that may or may not have been whipped up, Frankenstein-like, in Waldron’s musical lab. Even as i’m writing these words i’m realising afresh that what draws one in so inexorably to this music is its finely-judged liminal tangibility: mirrored in the ravishing accompanying artwork Waldron creates for every release, his worlds are always bizarre and alien yet populated by organisms that strongly evoke and allude to that which is familiar, which we know. It’s an enchanting – and perhaps the best – kind of disorientation. [Digital]

10 | various artists – Phantom Images

“In most respects these pieces are characterised by their dissimilarities more than anything else, though what unites them is a relationship with their materials that’s full of spontaneous, open-minded playfulness. But don’t let the beige artwork and that moody title mislead you: there are shitstorms brewing on this disc, and when they unleash, there’s no stopping them. This is play on the very cusp of chaos. … Chris Mercer’s Phantom Image is a genuine oddity, the product of Mercer recording himself playing all 46 parts individually and then assembling and stitching them together into a ‘studio orchestra’ that’s then subject to further manipulations and electronic jiggery-pokery. … It is, i have to say, eerily authentic – one would be hard-pushed to identify this as not being performed by a full-size orchestra – and just as impressive is its narrative shape and direction, Mercer causing the large, organic entity that the instruments become to continually metamorphose and reform. … Charmaine Lee and Sam Pluta’s quarks for voice and electronics takes the idea of play to an extreme. … The dramatic shape of the piece is highly impactful, receding around halfway through into softer, slightly squelchy and blippy electronic territory, embellished with air sounds from Lee, before launching forcefully into a network of such tightly interwoven materials that the music sounds positively strenuous. It’s a magnificent climax, kind of knackering (in the best sense) but all the more momentous when considered retrospectively during the work’s lovely ending, all vagueness and whispers.” (reviewed in June) [CD/Digital]

9 | Rich Shapero & Elsiane – Rin, Tongue and Dorner

Curiously released with not merely a minimum of hype but almost the sense of being secretive, Canadian duo Elsiane’s latest album is a collaboration with writer Rich Shapero exploring his novel Rin, Tongue and Dorner. The result is something between a soundtrack album and a work of music drama, though articulated via Elsiane’s unmistakable mode of dark synth-oriented pop. i’ve not read the novel, and Elsieanne Caplette’s voice is as wonderfully just-out-of-reach as ever, which means that venturing into the song’s inner meanings is something of a challenge and takes time. But that’s not really any different from most of Elsiane’s output, and in any case what has always driven their music is its elegant, overcast allure crowned by Caplette’s vocalisations, which are completely unlike any other singer and have always walked a fine line between communicating actual words and being used as an instrument, gliding in the depths of their soundworld. The curiously muted way Rin, Tongue and Dorner was released – plus the fact it’s available for the paltry sum of a single Canadian dollar – is all the more remarkable due to the fact that this is easily the duo’s best work since their astonishing debut Hybrid, 11 years ago. Few artists can make pop sound so subdued yet so glorious at the same time. [Digital]

8 | ionnalee – Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten

“Above all, i was struck again by the way that although Lee uses conventional verse-chorus structures in her songs, they never sound remotely formulaic. That’s partly due to the creative ways that structure is used, confused and occasionally abused in her work, but mostly down to her unique mixture of irresistible beat and bass combinations and anthemic choruses, presented with utterly forthright conviction. … Listen to the shuffling, leisurely atmosphere, main melody and combined plinky-plonks and grungy beats of ‘Like Hell’ or the wash-laden dream pop of ‘Here is a Warning’ and it’s abundantly clear that the extent of Jonna Lee’s vision and aspirations has expanded considerably … Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten is a lot more than just electronica and infectious synthpop; taken as a whole it sounds like an ambitious statement (or re-statement) of intent. This album could have ended up as a collection of worthwhile but failed experiments, yet it’s anything but: this is a confident, convincing and radical re-imagining that, more than ever before in Jonna Lee’s work, leaps beyond the confines of genre into a place that’s much less defined and relatively uncharted.” (reviewed in February) [Vinyl/CD+DVD/Digital]

7 | Thom Yorke – Suspiria (Music for the Luca Guadagnino Film)

Luca Guadagnino’s bold 2018 rethinking of Dario Argento’s original 1977 tale has found its perfect counterpart in the accompanying soundtrack provided by Thom Yorke. Considering that this is Yorke’s first film score, it’s a remarkable achievement. Far from being conventional trope- and cliché-riddled horror music, Yorke has opted instead for something as distant and ambiguous as it is ominous, a parallel for the air of mystery and enigma that underpins and exacerbates the movie’s sense of mounting terror. Electronic and acoustic sounds are thrown together in a way that makes the acoustic feel more than usually fragile beside the relatively uncanny, infinite possibilities contained in the electronics. In this respect, it’s especially nice the way Yorke incorporates one of the central sounds from the movie’s dance school location, répétiteur piano, to create many of the score’s cycling motifs – perhaps nowhere better than in the mesmerising magic of ‘Olga’s Destruction (Volk Tape)’, accompanying one of the film’s most stunningly grotesque scenes. Sensuality and sexuality abound in the movie’s narrative, and this is also articulated in a dark sense of yearning that permeates the score and comes to feel increasingly oppressive. A uniquely giallo-suited score, Thom Yorke’s Suspiria is by far the best movie soundtrack of 2018. [Vinyl/CD/Digital]

6 | Fia Fiell – All In The Same Room

Imagine a mosaic that was somehow created in water, its pieces floating in position and able to slowly reform into new designs, and you have some idea of what Australian composer Carolyn Schofield’s remarkable music is like. Working with synths in real-time, instead of small pieces of stone her mosaics use individual pitches, diatonically related to an underlying tonal centre that, despite all the constant movement above, remains fixed. These pieces of pitch jostle and twinkle as they move, in the process aligning to form melodic shapes and cascades of arpeggios, at the same time creating long episodes of more nebulous but never less than captivating movement. At first listen her latest album All In The Same Room picks up exactly where her gorgeous debut A Hair, A Heap left off two years ago, yet in terms of both behaviour and harmony there’s more complexity on display here. Now it’s not just the arrangement of each piece that can change but its nature too, Schofield making each one an intricately-fashioned precious object that can shape-shift at will. To an extent, there’s an ambient sensibility at play, but in such deeply absorbing music as this the idea of any part of it being ‘ignorable’ would be ridiculous; it’s impossible to take your ears off it. [Vinyl/Digital]

5 | Lauren Redhead – hearmleoþ—gieddunga

It’s always worth keeping your eye on netlabels, and over the last few years the Chicago-based Pan y Rosas Discos has outclassed most with the diversity and quality of its output. Among their most recent releases is hearmleoþ—gieddunga, a 50-minute cycle by Lauren Redhead that grew out of ideas for organ and electronics. The resulting electroacoustic soundscape, created in conjunction with Josh Cannon and Alastair Zaldua, draws on Anglo Saxon texts as the basis for its six movements. Not primarily as concrete lyrics to be conveyed but, more allusively, as succinct sentiments that acts as starting-points and springboards for complex, emotive and deeply immersive meditations that invoke something ancient while being utterly new. The voice is just one element among many that Redhead kneads and enfolds into these convoluted pieces, such that where all these elements begin and end becomes impossible to disentangle, resulting in incredibly abundant textures encrusted everywhere with almost absurd intricacies of detail. Yet at no point does hearmleoþ—gieddunga sound forbidding or difficult: what’s perhaps most impressive of all is the immediacy of these pieces, the way they transcend their welter of component parts to commune a beauty so instant and everywhere as to be completely spellbinding. Each time i’ve returned to this album i’ve heard more – so much more – than before, and i’m sure that’s going to continue to be true for a long, long time to come. Quite amazing. [Digital]

4 | Morton Feldman – For John Cage

“… a mesmerising, almost hypnotic performance that seemingly brings the world to a stop for 74 minutes. … ‘Playfulness’ is an important word in [Mark] Knoop and [Aisha] Orazbayeva’s performance – the interplay between them throughout always feels light and unplanned, as if the whole thing was a game … Sometimes they oscillate, or imitate, other times they argue, or ignore each other; and then there are the moments of transparency where it’s as if an uncanny external agency had made its presence felt, briefly transporting both players into another realm … There’s also something of the same kind of play as in Ligeti’s piano études on display here, though it’s matched by a rigour in the performance that keeps the music and the listener ultra-focused from start to finish. i genuinely never wanted this recording to end – and not just because Feldman’s material seemingly wants to do just that, and carry on forever: it’s an amazing performance, beautiful and alien, distant yet comforting, that even when it ends (as all things must), leaves one feeling suspended, transfixed.” (reviewed in October)

3 | Piggy Black Cross – Always Just Out of R.E.A.C.H. (Robotic Eclosion After Coming Hylozoic)

How on earth does Toby Driver do it? Few musicians have wowed me so consistently in so many different guises over the years. In the wake of such disparate behemoths as Kayo Dot, maudlin of the Well and Tartar Lamb comes Piggy Black Cross, a new collaboration with vocalist Bridget Bellavia. Driver describes it as “dark industrial IDM”, but this doesn’t even begin adequately to describe the serpentine majesty captured in these five songs. It’s true that the lack of overt avant-prog rock elements distinguishes it markedly from most of his other work, yet despite not being governed by Driver’s lucid dreaming lyrical impulse, both structurally and stylistically this is music as nomadic and free-wheeling as ever. Thus, the songs each unfold as unpredictable sequences of episodes – almost boxes within boxes – that seemingly progress ever inward through concentric compartmentalised kernels of stuff within their respective cores. Some of the songs are unquestionably dark – in ‘∂ea∂ 1101001011’s In-Cide’ there’s an abiding sense of walls closing in on all sides – though that doesn’t stop the music from occasionally both being and radiating light, Bellavia’s voice becoming breathy and intimate (heard most strikingly in the opening of ‘2 aƒЯa1D’). But that’s hardly the point of this album; what’s projected most on Always Just Out of R.E.A.C.H. is a pounding relentless energy articulated via a collection of inner engines with continually shifting gears. By far the most exhilarating and ecstatic songs i’ve heard all year. [Digital]

2 | Lee Fraser – Cor Unvers

“listening to its four tracks is like hearing electronic music for the first time all over again. … in all [Fraser’s] work there’s a robust sense of forward motion, of ideas continually evolving and reshaping themselves both independently and in response to other ideas impinging upon them. There are no repeats or recaps in Fraser’s music: always onward, for the most part never looking back. … many of the things Fraser does with sound are practically indescribable: it’s like watching a fireworks and light display beamed to Earth from an alien planet. But … its Fraser’s dramatic sensibility that makes these discombobulating streams of consciousness coalesce into music that at no point is anything less than completely compelling and, amazingly, convincing. … Inevitably, now and again a sound … will act as a mental trigger, bringing to mind bells, streams, shimmering light, metallic clatter or, on one occasion, rotating bicycle spokes. But these are less deliberate evocations and allusions on Fraser’s part than subjective attempts to parse and decipher and navigate through the music’s inscrutable soundworlds, where ideas are at one moment aligned in intricate grids, the next hurled over each other with muscular force like the splashes across a Pollock canvas, where enervated textures are abruptly injected with vast quantities of energy, where multiple climaxes can take place without diminishing their power or impact, and where just when you thought sound couldn’t be more immediately foregrounded, something happens so impossibly close it’s as if it had jumped right out of the speakers onto your face. … Just incredible.” (reviewed in August) [CD: UK/Europe / International]

1 | The Caretaker – Everywhere at the end of time – Stages 4 & 5

Sometimes, music grabs you instantly, wins you over effortlessly, holds you in thrall from the first moment the encounter begins until the last moment when it dies away. Sometimes – but not always, and in the case of Stage 4 of Leyland Kirby’s ongoing cycle Everywhere at the end of time, it was nothing of the kind, but instead a difficult and profoundly uncomfortable experience. This, i now realise, was simply the shock at Kirby tilting the narrative so violently after the comparative gentleness and ostensibly cosy nostalgia of the preceding stages.

But the narrative core of Everywhere at the end of time is as far from gentle and cosy as it’s possible to get. As in all of Kirby’s work as The Caretaker, this is music concerned with memory, here presented as an ongoing six-part epic exploring the horrendous effects of decline caused by dementia. And just as dementia precipitates increasing amounts of confusion concerning past and present, so listening to Stage 4 causes one to reappraise what one heard in Stages 1 to 3. In many respects, Stage 3 (which featured high in my 2017 Best Albums of the Year) is the most beautiful, yet the way i wrote about it previously described its closing track, ‘Mournful camaraderie’, as “two minutes that are weirdly comforting, dronal and ecstatic yet glazed over and dull”. Little did i realise that these were, within the context of Kirby’s overarching narrative, the very last moments of anything approaching coherence.

Stage 5 is impossible to separate from Stage 4; they function together to redirect the work through a collapse into disastrous incomprehensibility, hence why i’ve broken one of my usual rules and allowed both albums to appear together in this list. Just as listening to Stage 4 forced me to reappraise and understand anew what Stages 1 to 3 were and what they meant, so listening to Stage 5 forced me to approach Stage 4 again, and only now, regarding both stages together, did the penny drop. Now, what once were vestiges of remembrance – glimpses of reality that allowed for nostalgia and, thereby, some semblance of coherence in an otherwise breaking-down intelligence – are replaced by a maelstrom in which traces of those vestiges can only occasionally be heard within the melée, barely surfacing and more often than not buried so deeply that one wonders to what extent they might be entirely imaginary. There are times when Kirby allows these traces to protrude more, though they never, ever sound as once they did, rendered either harsh (as if their upper registers had been boosted) or reduced to a ridiculous shadow of their former lyrical selves, rendered as stupefied singing. Ominously, the maelstrom itself starts to exhibit drop-outs, the first signs of a yet greater catastrophe that inevitably lies in wait to bring even the notion of a narrative – indeed, all notions of anything – to an end. (Presumably, this is coming in Stage 6, to be released next March.)

Even though Stage 4 collapses into something altogether more confused than what went before, some notion of nostalgia remains in those tiny traces of musical memories, despite their distortion. In Stage 5, this is replaced by a more active sense of the music wrangling with itself in a desperate attempt to make any kind of sense. While in both these stages the track durations are the same (roughly 22 minutes), in Stage 5 to a greater extent these durations seem entirely arbitrary, merely providing random windows into a much larger situation rather than being deliberate beginning-middle-end structures. Even here, moments of ‘clarity’ occur, accidents of cohesion that for the briefest of times instantly resurrect the most ephemeral notion of a past and an identity, but such fragments – their cohesion and their integrity now fatally undermined – are rare in what is otherwise an increasingly undifferentiated and impenetrable torrent of numb, anonymous sonic stuff that, once upon a time, not so long ago, was music.

Everywhere at the end of time is difficult to write about. What Leyland Kirby is doing in this cycle is important and ground-breaking, and it’s impossible to separate what it is as a sonic work of art – regarding it as ‘pure sound’ – from what it represents as a large-scale artistic engagement with and comment upon (and even, possibly, depiction of) the insidious effects of dementia. Through Stages 4 and 5 the music passes far beyond conventional notions of beauty into something unbearably and almost indescribably tragic. Where once there was beauty, now there is only breakdown, blackout and blank noise, walls of reverberation that have lost all trace of what caused their resonance. Hauntology has never been so genuinely haunted and haunting. It is, without any shadow of a doubt, the most deeply and overwhelmingly moving music that i have ever heard. It is an astounding musical accomplishment.

[Stage 4: Vinyl / Stage 5: Vinyl / Stages 1–5Digital]


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Chris L

Everywhere at the end of time is difficult to write about.

Isn’t it just?! In one of the few other in-depth reviews of Stage 5 out there to date (which is actually very good despite – or because of – these supposed shortcomings), the author is downright apologetic about spending so long “[b]ringing inept understandings of phantom limbs and dementia’s biology into a record review” in order to try and articulate his (mis?)understanding of what he’s been listening to…

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