In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: actually scary songs.
British electronic artist Leyland Kirby has built his career on the sounds of decomposition, operating under a dozen different aliases in which he typically takes other people's songs, mixes them with field recordings and various electronic drones, then hacks and butchers them into nightmarish mirror visions. While that can take many forms—from the punkish squalls of his main V/Vm project to the darkly cinematic ambience of The Stranger (whose new, highly recommended Watching Dead Empires In Decay occupies a middle ground between Boards Of Canada and Demdike Stare)—some of his spookiest work has been as The Caretaker.
As one might gather from the name, Kirby's The Caretaker project drew its initial inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, reimagining the film’s grand, ghostly atmosphere by taking old recordings of big band-era romantic ballads, then processing them through rolling fogs of haze and echo. His 1999 debut album, aptly titled Selected Memories From The Haunted Ballroom, often took the "haunted" theme fairly literally, stretching its bygone waltzes until the voices turned gibbering and demonic, creating the impression of a never-ending gala of the damned. But he could also employ an airier, more melancholy touch—one that’s arguably even more unsettling.
Take “Haunting Me,” a serenade that's been slowed here just enough to remove its rhythms almost entirely, making it seem like it exists entirely out of time. As its formerly swooning, now moaning strains echo back on themselves, they're enveloped by a low, billowing hiss that recalls William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops—and just generally disintegration. The Caretaker's music operates under the theme that our memories are the ghosts that torment us, and—like the people and places who filled them—our inability to hold on is what turns them from happy to haunted. When it comes to memories, you are the caretaker (you’ve always been the caretaker). But inevitably they will fade from your grasp, slowly warping into phantom visions before finally slipping away. Listening to these remembrances of love grow dim is like listening to death itself.