At long last the golden boy of the dubstep scene has graced us with a new EP release on Hyperdub. The EP shows the producer on fine form, retaining his signature motifs but moving ever forward in exploring the techno-influenced sound showcased on his last single Street Halo. The hype surrounding Burial following his eponymous debut album was ridiculous, fuelled apparently by the simple fact of anonymity in an image-obsessed world of slick marketing strategy. Speculation that the moody two-step don was in fact Hyperdub boss Kode9 was dispelled in 2008 when it was revealed in the Independent that Burial was the stage name of south Londoner William Bevan. Much was made of the fact that Bevan is an alumnus of the Elliott School in Putney Heath, also attended by Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard as well as Kieran Hebden, otherwise known as boundary-exploring artist Four Tet. Maybe there was something in the water at the Elliott that created a stream of leftfield and invariably successful indie-electronica artists.
Burial’s debut displayed a dark mastery of urban malaise, paranoia and loneliness, with track titles such as ‘U Hurt Me’, ‘Broken Home’ and ‘Night Bus’ giving an overt indication of the mood of the album. His sound was immediately placed in the context of dubstep emanating from South London in 2005-6, but at the same time it stood out as a distinct take on the scene, eschewing the club-driven bass drops of his contemporaries. His signature two-step beats run through the album, but yet this sound was a long way from the bouncing exuberance of early 2000s garage. The album blends the heaviness of the bass-driven dubstep of the post-garage era with a muted and melancholy sense of loss and solitude. Disembodied vocals drift in and out, as if the whole album was a soundtrack to a lonely night ride home to the south London suburbs. Burial’s debut album blew people away and rightly so, here was a truly original release that was haunting, disturbing and yet eerily beautiful.
Untrue, released on Hyperdub in 2007, showcased a softer and more contemplative side to Burial. The two-step beats remained, but were complimented by a keener sense of melody and greater use of vocals. There is a dark warmth to the album which contrasts with Burial‘s heaviness, with tracks such as ‘Endorphin’ and ‘UK’ showcasing an intense emotional depth. In ‘Shell of Light’ there is an perceptible sense of hope where the previous album displayed a rejection of the city’s malign neglect. On tracks such as ‘In McDonalds’, ‘Untrue’ and ‘Homeless’ the melodic maturity on offer is staggering. Yet Burial hadn’t let go of the urban soundscaping, with vocal snippets once again representing the late-night urban milieu, most stark on the intro to ‘Etched Headplate’. Standout track of the album, however, is the closing number ‘Raver’. Subdued but soaring melodies laid over a simple beat, the track is a post-garage, post-rave anthem. Its nod to rave culture goes beyond just the title, sampling Robin S’ rave classic ‘Show Me Love’. The track for me represents the twin sense of euphoria and melancholy in rave culture, hedonistic celebration so cruelly and quickly followed by loneliness and regret.
A string of sublime remixes cemented Burial’s reputation as one of the most innovative artists in the electronic music scene, if not the entire music industry. Blackdown’s ‘Crackle Blues’ was transformed into a minimal track sprinkled with piano and bass. This pre-Untrue release was a sign of things to come, giving a taste of Burial’s love of minimal melodies and disembodied vocals. Similarly ethereal remixes were to follow, including Jamie Woon’s ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, Bloc Party’s ‘Where is Home?’ and ‘Be True’ by Commix. Fans of Burial had to wait until 2011 for his next solo outing, however, when the ‘Street Halo’ single was released on Hyperdub. The title track showed Burial moving towards the 4/4 sound displayed on ‘Raver’ and increasingly favoured by many post-dubstep artists. The tune is Burial on fine form, combing sub-bass and vocal snippets to excellent effect, resulting in a subdued rave roller. ‘NYC’ returns to Burial’s signature two-step beat, with melodic and vocal arrangements recalling much of Untrue. ‘Stolen Dog’ is similarly haunting, vocals soaring high above a subtle and minimal beat.
Which begs the question, can Burial continue to release tracks of such incredible depth without succumbing to staid repetition? Having created such an unmistakable sound, the danger is that its creative limits will become increasingly apparent. Thankfully, the Kindred EP indicates that there are no signs of this happening just yet. The release is ambitious in length, with two of its three tracks surpassing 11 minutes, displaying an exploration of progression perhaps hitherto unseen. ‘Kindred’ drops in hard, showing Burial returning to the rough and rugged sound of early dubstep with aggressive drums and deep bass. The track has several breakdowns crackling with reverb, launching again in its latter section into a lighter melodic coda with strings singing over the stark two-step, and closing in typically ethereal fashion in its last breath. ‘Loner’ moves into dark house territory, exploring sounds never before heard in Burial’s releases. It is an urgent but grimly melancholic and uncharacteristically fast tour de force. Final track ‘Ashtray Wasp’ clocks in at an impressive 11:45, and nods heavily to earlier releases, particularly Burial’s debut. There is a dark Lynchian element to the track, also present throughout the EP, as if it was intended as a soundtrack to climactic cinematic performance. The sample ‘I want you’ haunts the listener, displaying Burial’s themes of emotional rejection, longing and yearning. Burial cannily samples his earlier tracks throughout ‘Ashtray Wasp’, as if displaying in one song just how far he has come in the six years he’s been on the scene. This EP might see Burial at his most developed as a producer, showing off a classical talent alongside contemporary nous and exceptional musical breadth. We can only wait to see what will be on offer in his next full length release.
Buy the mp3 release on Hyperdub here, and the vinyl is set to be released soon.