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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Burial: Burial


1) Untitled; 2) Distant Lights; 3) Spacescape; 4) Wounder; 5) Night Bus; 6) Southern Comfort; 7) U Hurt Me; 8) Gutted; 9) Forgive; 10) Broken Home; 11) Prayer; 12) Pirates; 13) Untitled.

Apparently, for the first few years of his career, William Bevan did not even reveal his true iden­tity, stating out of the gloom that he was «a lowkey person» and that he «just wants to make some tunes, nothing else». It was known only that he was holed up somewhere in London, hooked up to a computer with Sony Sound Forge, and some went as far as to suggest that he was really Aphex Twin in disguise. Reality turned out to be less extravagant than we usually want it to be, but, fortunately, this has little bearing on the extravagance of the music.

The genre labels for Burial's self-titled debut that one usually encounters involve «2-step», «dub­steb», «UK garage», etc., but all of this is misleading — yes, with a little effort you might learn to dance to these tunes, yet there is really no serious reason why you should: the real reason why Burial's output is valued so highly is in the atmosphere, not in the beats. And that atmosphere... how should I put it? Well, from my old-timer school's perspective, let me put it this way: Burial sounds as if, above everything else, it drew its chief influence from Side 2 of David Bowie's Heroes — particularly ʽSense Of Doubtʼ; and this point stands even if the resemblance is purely coincidental (which I doubt, since no respectable electronic musician these days may be ignorant on the subject of the «Berlin Trilogy»).

«Burial» is right, in fact — it is basically an album about burial, with so many of its beats sound­ing like dull shovels pounding against the clodded earth and loose rocks of the graveyard. What this album really has on so many other electronic productions is that all of its tracks merge toge­ther in a genuine sense of purpose, and that purpose (the way I interpret it) is — to picture a deva­stated, bombed-into-oblivion, post-apocalyptic planet where lonely ghosts, occasional zombies, roaches, and loose radio signals represent the only remaining traces of life. (Strange enough, no Keith Richards in sight, though — must be a parallel universe after all).

The actual samples used by Bevan do not interest me in the slightest — the only point of interest is in that they are deliciously random, ranging from bits of Benicio del Toro's dialog in 21 Grams to reggae (Sizzla) to ambient (Eno) to mainstream R&B (Ashanti and Destiny's Child). But they all get the same treatment regardless of their original context: Ashanti's "you hurt me" from ʽFoolishʼ is a ghostly echo now, rising out of some dreary chasm that the nuclear fallout and the acid rains have ripped in the former heart of the city, barely registering against the incessant pum­meling of the excavator and the vaguely mid-Eastern shreds of melodies emanating from the earth's pores.

What makes Burial so particularly spooky is that there is nothing intentionally and arrogantly look-at-me-I'm-so-spooky about it. The beats — and all other sounds, for that matter — are deci­dedly quiet and inobtrusive. Nothing ever «builds up» to anything — most «songs» end the same way they started out, so the only suspense to be experienced is found in between the tracks. There is no danger in the air, because it seems as if everything dangerous that could have happened already has — even if there are zombies here, they seem to have completely lost interest in any­thing other than simply hobbling around, moaning and groaning in quietly stunned mode. The two-minute long sonic scape called ʽNight Busʼ is not about going anywhere — it is actually a beatless, rhythmless ambient interlude that focuses, at best, on the rusty remains of a night bus that has long since run its last run. The only serious tension throughout is provided by the bass frequencies — «sensed» rather than «heard», they are the perfect embodiment of the technogenic catastrophe residue, and have a primary role in creating the overall illusion.

Individual tracks do not need any description here: this is a cohesive experience where separation of ingredients will only decrease the admiration. Naturally, the pictorial interpretation that I offer here is far from the only one possible, but at least I can honestly state that Bevan paints a musical landscape that is open to a concrete interpretation — one that borrows heavily from the experi­ence of, say, Autechre, but is at the same time much more accessible than Autechre. I am not in­terested in the slightest if Burial does indeed «legitimize dubstep», as Jason Birchmeier pro­claims in the All-Music Guide review — its formal percussive trappings are just that, formal per­cussive trappings. What matters is only that, if you listen to it long enough, you might start be­lieving that what you hear on it is the future of humanity. And that's sufficiently creepy — not to mention oh so frickin' dark-romantic! — to justify a thumbs up.

Check "Burial" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Burial" (MP3) on Amazon

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