STRANGER, THE - WATCHING DEAD EMPIRES IN DECAY (LP)
"'Watching Dead Empires in Decay' is a new album recorded under another of James Kirby's (V/VM, The Caretaker) pseudonyms 'The Stranger' and released on Modern Love, a label that has been close to Kirby through these last eventful 15 years. It's a dream album for the label: perhaps the most ambitious of Kirby's career so far. It's complex, singular, enigmatic, percussive, dark, and you just can't work out how it was constructed. Gone are the sampled 78's of The Caretaker, but it also doesnt exactly sound electronic - you just can't quite fathom how any of it was put together: Field Recordings? Found Sounds? Sheets of metal scraped and hammered? Drum machines re-wired? It's stark and unsettling, haunted, even troubling - but often just beautiful. It starts with the sharp clang of opener 'We Are Enemies But Not Here' before the woozy percussive crawl 'So Pale It Shone In The Night' sucks you into a bare landscape: somewhere between Eraserhead and Fumio Hayasaka's music for Akira Kurosawa. And then there are moments that break through the tension with clarity and familiarity, nostalgia even: 'Where Are Our Monsters Now, Where Are Our Friends?' could have been made by Boards of Canada if they had taken a turn into more noxious terrain back in 1998, while 'Spiral Of Decline' offsets the drum programming you'd most likely associate with a Powell record with an oblique sense of timing and space. It all ends with 'About To Enter A Strange New Period', an unusual, vaporous coda that offers no resolution - it just shuts proceedings down with nothing settled.