In one of last year's best interview pieces, Leland James Kirby laid out his plans for the Caretaker persona's six part slip into dementia.
"The interesting thing is the switch between the first and second album. The second one is a massive difference between the moods. The second one is the point where you realise that something is wrong. You’re seeing doctors. You’re still coherent enough to say, “Right, I’ve got dementia…” You know this thing is coming. There’s a bit of disbelief."
There are way too many great quotes from that interview to list here, but it's rare to see an artist's vision translate so vividly into the finished product. "Stage 2" is exactly what Kirby promised and more. If anything it's even more nerve-wrackingly beautiful than I ever could have imagined.
The first album didn't stray very far from much of his prior work as The Caretaker. His gently distorted ballroom ballads conveyed a type of nostalgia that could either be sad (crushing realizations that the old days are gone and never coming back) or wistful and peaceful (happy remembrances of how simple and fun those old days were).
True to his words, the transition to the second album is brutal. Parts of the old memories are still there. The crackling static is more pervasive, and yet the mind perseveres and sometimes can retain its focus throughout one of the old standards. But at other times it increasingly becomes clear that important parts are missing. The tone of the instruments becomes so distorted that there's some doubt about who or what is playing (is that a saxophone? clarinet? bassoon?) The solos are still there, floating through the haze, perceptibly stretched in time, and are no longer anchored to anything in particular (where is the bass line? where are the verses? are these parts even from the same song?)
There's a functioning human being in there who can still hum the choruses to plenty of long forgotten tunes, but 20-30% of the time he's humming on autopilot, recalling without thinking, feeling empty and confused as to why things don't make sense like they used to. It's a horrifying feeling, really, to fully understand what's happening to you, powerless to do anything except grip your memories tightly before they disappear forever.
At the time of the interview, Kirby had just started working on the third album. He acknowledged that his patient was degrading fast and that he was unsure what the last three albums would entail. "How do you make complete confusion a good listen?", he wondered aloud. Can it really get more depressing than this album is?