Watching Dead Empires in Decay
Watching Dead Empires In Decay seems like The Stranger's (or James Leyland Kirby's) visioning of an industrial hell, with occasional rays of sunlight breaking through the murky sky. Unlike Kirby's most notorious creation, The Caretaker, where listeners could take relative comfort in the knowledge that they were being served lovingly recycled 78s or some other tangible thing, here its hard to pinpoint exactly what is being dished up. It seems like mostly field recordings, and the first two tracks meld into one with clattering sparse workhouse percussion and an eerie sense of dread throughout. This is done especially well on "So Pale It Shone In The Night" which seems like a neo-classical piece albeit with a Scott-Walker-pounding-a-slab-of-meat sense of urgency. If its possible, things get even darker on the aptly titled "We Scarcely See Sunlight" where groans and an ominous bell toll build up the tension before the reset button gets hit on "Providence or Fate". Fans of The Caretaker will enjoy the familiar crackle but there's also a sense of hope and clarity seeping in on the album's finest moment, one of the most moving and, dare I say it, uplifting pieces of music you'll hear all year. The melodies start creeping in more and more with "Where Are Our Monsters Now, Where Are Our Friends?" which includes a synth hook that channels a (maybe not too distant) dystopian future. These tracks, along with the follow up, "Grey Day Drift", seem to form a peak where Kirby introduces more and more elements which listeners would associate with traditional "music", before dismantling everything again for the album's conclusion. It's a fascinating journey which takes in grim realism and enlightening flights of fancy in one fell swoop.