Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Burial - Kindred EP
Hyperdub, 2012

New music from Burial is rare. In the four and a half years since he released Untrue in November 2007, he has released nine collaborative tracks and four new Burial songs: "Fostercare," from 2009's 5: Five Years of Hyperdub and the Street Halo single last year, which included the title track, "NYC," and "Stolen Dog." The release of this single brings that total up to seven with the title track and b-sides "Loner" and "Ashtray Wasp," or just over half the number of tracks on Untrue.

I make this point not to find fault or criticize. To say that Burial's sound is distinctive would be an understatement: for all that artists have attempted to imitate his omnipresent crackle and hiss, his ghostly, androgynous vocal samples, and his syncopated, aqueous drums, there's something that Burial's music brings to the table that is uniquely his own. His name has become shorthand for a certain palette, so familiar at this point, in much the same way that My Bloody Valentine or Boards of Canada have become widely used shorthands for certain combinations of sounds and emotions. What's amazing, then, is that given the relative paucity of his output over the last few years, and given the similarity in terms of sounds and elements that Burial's music has favoured since Untrue, that familiar palette and the emotions it evokes still resonate.

Without ever seeming to change, Burial's music has developed over the past few years, becoming more nuanced and subtle while avoiding any hint of insularity, which would be death for his sound. His music is intimate as a touch or a whisper, but as elusive and ephemeral as a shared glance as you pass someone on the street. The tension between the titles of the songs on this single--"Kindred" points to togetherness and community while "Loner" signals isolation, alienation even, on top of loneliness--is a perfect encapsulation of his music.

This tension between community and isolation is reflected in his rare statements about his music and the purpose behind it. He's talked about making music that reflects his sense of London, a city full of "distant lights, down the end of your road" and how his songs need to be "faith restoring somehow to me." He constantly refers to the idea of his music glowing, of its appropriateness for:
when you come back from being out somewhere; in a minicab or a night bus, or with someone, or walking home across London late at night, dreamlike, and you've still got the music kind of echoing in you, in your bloodstream, but with real life trying to get in the way. I want it to be like a little sanctuary. It's like that 24-hour stand selling tea on a rainy night, glowing in the dark.
Taken together, these ideas all form the Burial aesthetic: unidentifiable voices heard through the walls, late-night walks in the rain, glowing angels watching over us.

Kindred is Burial's biggest leap forward since Untrue, a release that finds him working with the developments in bass music over the past two years without abandoning his signature elements. The upfront and aggressive drums of "Kindred" might be relatively free of hiss and hard and menacing as jackboots, but they're recognizably Burial, resembling more than ever the fishbones he's referenced when discussing drums. Similarly, "Loner's" first half, although ostensibly one of Burial's most club-friendly moments is full of odd touches: the mix seems inside out, the vocal samples trying to escape the bright arpeggiated line that dominates the track, the drums occasionally skipping or stuttering, explosions of ghostly hum and fog-like hiss disrupting the momentum. When the unaccompanied vocals sing out at the end of the track, it's a relief from the crushing, driving music that's come before. Their eerie melody is shaded with ambiguous meaning, at once comforting and hopeful and forbiddingly alien.

It's on "Ashtray Wasp," though--which Scratcha DVA previewed a few minutes of back in December--that demonstrates the amount of progress present on this single, as it synthesizes the new and the old and suggests just how potent Burial c.2012 is. The track begins with a nice, excitement generating buildup that sounds like "classic" Burial--the hushed, shuffling drums joined by an attention grabbing vocal sample. After a few movements, though, the track really takes off in its second half. The gently knocking rhythm and synth pulses that open up into a beautiful world of Four Tet-ish twinkling and truly warped vocal sampling is both unbelievably virtuosic and arresting. It's my favourite moment here; I can only hope that Burial chooses to develop this particular strand further at some point.

Not everything on Kindred is perfect and not all of Burial's experiments work, but that's what is so exciting here. When one of these developments clicks--like the euphoric moment that starts "Kindred" and recurs throughout or the eruptions of hiss and fog that periodically swallow these tracks up--it sounds genuinely thrilling, an artist delighting in his own power. What's more, it changes the tone of the most frequent question surrounding Burial's music--how far can he take this sound?--from incipient weariness to anticipation. The Quietus knew this back in December when they said "Burial gets better with each release by becoming more and more like Burial." It turns out that identity and the music that surrounds it is more rich and varied than anyone expected.

Back in 2007, Burial talked about his music--and music in general--having a kind of social function:
You see people and you're disconnected from them, they mean fuck-all to you, but other times you can invest everything in someone you don't even know, silently believe in them, it might be on the underground or in a shop or something. You hope people are doing that with you as well. . . . It's easy to fall away and fuck up and for many people there's no safety net. Sometimes one tune can mean everything, it's like a talisman. . . . When you are young you are pushed around by forces that are nothing to do with you. You're lost, most of the time you don't understand what's going on with yourself, with anything.
In the face of this confusion and loss, music offers a haven, a place of solidarity. In 2012, with a world of precarity and austerity being all that we (but especially youths) are commanded to expect, Burial's music seems more important than ever.

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