BURIAL: STREET HALO / KINDRED (2012)
1) Street Halo; 2) NYC; 3) Stolen Dog; 4) Kindred; 5) Loner; 6) Ashtray Wasp.
Beat Records took the trouble of releasing two of Burial's EPs, Street Halo from 2011 and Kindred from 2012, on a single CD — considering that they are ideologically quite close, this makes for a cozy enough «third album» to merit one more autonomous review: after all, much to Burial's honor, he does not regard electronic music recording as some sort of inevitable daily activity, on par with going to the bathroom, like quite a few of his peers do.
This does not automatically ensure that each new release of a Burial album turns into a mind-blowing event, but these two EPs, in particular, certainly go a step further than Untrue, and, I would say, more or less in the same direction in which Untrue alienated itself from the self-titled debut — namely, the music is gradually becoming louder and livelier, as if, indeed, the guy were busy constructing his own «cycle of life», where Burial represented the post-apocalyptic «cockroaches, Cher, & Keith Richards» phase, Untrue was the baby organic matter recomposing itself after a lengthy wait period, and now these two EPs let you hear the newly developed steady pulse of life — immune not only to extreme radiation exposure, but even to dirty vinyl scratching.
The big difference, of course, is that, for the first time in Burial history, the dance beats are not only perfectly audible and usable, but they are also all over the place. ʽStreet Haloʼ employs a relatively straight techno track, to which Burial pins all his usual trademarks (melancholic ambient synthesizers and vocal samples lifted from select R&B ballads). On ʽNYCʼ, the rhythms are more tricky, with an industrial flavor, but loud, precise, and predictable enough for the track to be classified as «body-oriented» — and then on ʽStolen Dogʼ the techno aspects are back, although, to be fair, all of the tracks are multi-part: every now and then, the beats sink into the mud, and the music takes some time to reform and regroup.
Kindred takes this liveliness even further by adding speed and frenzy — not on the title track, which mainly reproduces the atmosphere of ʽNYCʼ, but certainly on ʽLonerʼ, where not only the beats, but even the synthesizers are subjected to some rather unusual acceleration by Burial's standards (resulting in a slightly paranoid, never-stop impression not unlike the one triggered by Pink Floyd's ʽOn The Runʼ), and on the first part of ʽAshtray Waspʼ, whose rhythmic and melodic parts have really little to do with the image of an ashtray wasp — the fast-moving synth loops suggest dynamic journeying rather than immobile decomposing insect flesh.
That said, whether all this change is for the better or for the worse remains an open question. The transition from a largely «static» sound to a more dynamic ambience may give us reviewers something to write about, but it also steals away some of the bold charm that was the main reason to listen to and speak well of Burial in the first place. Ever so often, I catch myself thinking that, on their own, these tracks have nothing important to add to our understanding of electronic music ever since Richard D. James had expanded it so thoroughly even before the new millennium crept in. In context — yeah, sure, «death breeding life» and all that stuff that crept into my mind while trying to visualize the offered sonic ambience. But solitary standing — not really.
Granted, both EPs were generally met with tremendous praise by the critics: Kindred, in particular, has received plenty of ecstatic rave reviews («never before has his music possessed this much majesty, this much command, this much power: the pathos here has moved from sympathetic to completely domineering», writes Andrew Ryce at Pitchfork, making me question the very essence of such terms as ʽmajestyʼ and ʽpowerʼ, neither of which I would ever associate with the music of Burial). But honestly, in terms of sheer substance, I see little, if any, progress here: basically, this is just the same solid Burial formula, made a bit more accessible for the average electronic listener. As such, this pair of EPs does deserve a solid thumbs up, but it hardly seems to deserve the «amazing technicolor breakthrough» tag that certain people suffering from long / short-term memory loss have been so keen on sticking to it.