To pass on this essential release would be a serious error. It may be desperately melancholy but the breathtaking and often heart-stopping compositions can transcend the mood of the listener.
[Release page] Over the last two years, James Kirby has been releasing three discrete streams of music: the brain addled, ballroom stream of consciousness albums under his beloved Caretaker moniker; the crumbling, decayed collages of Leyland Kirby, and most recently the eclectic collections of often exceptionally strange material housed under the Intrigue & Stuff umbrella featuring tracks so diverse that they would neither sit happily in either camp nor work together comfortably within the context of a typical album. Of all these releases, Eager to tear apart the stars should by rights feel like the most important, as in many ways it is an obvious sequel to the epic Sadly, the future is no longer what it was. So why doesn’t it?
While Sadly, the future is no longer what it was is a work of extreme beauty, it is perhaps not helped by its intimidating size and stature. Sure it’s technically three separate albums connected under one roof, but it has rarely been packaged that way, thus one almost feels obligated, when picking it off the shelf, to listen to all three parts in one sitting. Since such an undertaking can sometimes feel like sitting down to watch all three Lord of The Rings extended director’s cuts back to back, it has rather unfairly acquired a reputation as music to be admired and remembered rather than listened to. This is to say nothing of the limited edition two-disc version (still scheduled for an official re-issue on History Always Favours The Winners at some point in the future) featuring both different mixes and tracks unique to the edition, plus the additional two discs worth of “remembered” versions and bonus tracks only released digitally. There’s so much great stuff there, but its a long and challenging trek one has to take to visit it all.
So why am I banging on about Sadly… when I should be talking about Eager to tear apart the stars? Two reasons: first to assure you that this album does not carry the baggage of its gargantuan predecessor, and second that it is definitely not just more of the same. Extract all the heavy, noise-driven tracks from Sadly… and you’re left with the delicate, often extended, piano-led pieces that are the defining characteristic of Eager to tear apart the stars. In fact it contains some of his most moving, composed and tightly edited work to date. Those new to Kirby’s work might even be better off starting with Eager to tear apart the stars and working backwards.
There are more immediate and memorable series of musical phrases in both “This is the story of paradise lost” and “My dream contained a star” that will have you waiting with baited breath for Kirby to return to them over and over again, which they obligingly do. The former bears a lightness of touch to both the period piano solo and arch string sections that counterpoint beautifully with the distorted hiss and rumble of the wind. The latter is a yearning, mournful piece, its descending melody and lightly dusted, lower register strings the accompaniment to memories of things long lost: vast country house estates, empty, dusty rooms full of fading heirlooms and portraits of ancient ancestors. Elsewhere you have a more recognisable format of heavy bass distortion and slurring melodies. “They are all dead, there are no skip at all” eerily plays out like a nursery rhyme emanating from a dilapidated old music box, tinkling bells, innocent melodies and the usual gauzy haze of dusty distortion, whilst the swathes of echoing choral vocals and sawing strings in “No longer distance than death” are engulfed by rumbling, distorted wells of bass.
In a year where you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to new Kirby material, perhaps Eager to tear apart the stars doesn’t stand out as much because it is the most recognisable, whereas Intrigue & Stuff strikes out in insane directions and The Caretaker has that queasy sense of fun and nostalgia. It’s also odd that that Ivan Seal’s lush canvas adorning the cover makes this look like a companion piece to The Caretaker’s An Empty Bliss Beyond This World. Nevertheless, to pass on this essential release would be a serious error. It may be desperately melancholy but the breathtaking and often heart-stopping compositions can transcend the mood of the listener.