In the myriad of flowery adjectives available to describe an artist, band or producer, along with ‘genius’, describing someone as being ‘peerless’ is not praise that should ever be dished out lightly, or without careful consideration. But after a couple of spins of Burial’s new EP ‘Kindred’, out now on Hyperdub Records, the delivery of that praise feels like a complete no-brainer.
For Burial aficionados the opening title track begins typically enough, as grainy needle scratches, thundery echoes and muffled vocals give way to a sharp, snap-crackle drumbeat. Then around the minute-and-a-half mark comes a juddering bassline to disturb the equilibrium. Unruly and machine-like, it feels like a distant subterranean cousin of the now culturally ingrained dubstep “wobble”; perhaps Burial is doing for the dubstep generation what he became renowned for with UK garage in the mid-noughties. As the drumbeat reenters (evidencing the closest you’re probably ever going to get to a ‘drop’ here) we sense a producer embracing a degree of aggression and murkiness not explored in earlier work. But as Kindred’s groove flows, Burial evidences one of his overarching strengths as a producer of electronic music – that being his remarkable ability to create and reflect intense emotion at the heart of his music. As the backbeat continues to shudder, reverberating vocals and soaring synths fall in and out of the mix, shifting between melancholia and menace with an almost bi-polar tendency. Around the ten-minute mark, this remarkable piece of music slowly relaxes its muscles, coming to a sombre, reflective close.
As ‘Loner’ kicks into gear it is clear that we are again in unchartered territory. Whereas Burial’s beats have tended to belong in a rain-soaked, paranoid reimagining of the drama of the night before, “Loner’s” crystalline, four-to-the-floor rhythm seems to originate on the dancefloor. As handclaps and a spiraling synth-line are thrown into the mix, we settle upon what is perhaps the closet to actual ‘dance’ music Burial has ever produced. And it’s top notch. Like ‘Kindred’, this also seems to have a form of coda, which stops short the upbeat mood as a high-pitched, echoing vocal line signals a tense, unnerving finish.
Ashtray Wasp is perhaps the most immediately familiar piece on the EP (and not just because it’s final section was played out on Hyperdub’s new Rinse FM show back in December). It does however feature ‘Kindred’ most emphatically embracing a sense of lyricism and melody. In fact you can almost discern something of a chorus here, as a shrouded voice laments of how ‘I used to belong’.
On a recent Guardian Music podcast, the panel discussed Adam Harper’s new book ‘Infinite Music’. Rather than viewing contemporary music as finding inspiration through backward glances, (fruitfully covered by Simon Reynolds in his book ‘Retromania’) Harper revels in the almost endless possibilities opened up for music-makers by 21st technology. Particular artists name-checked included Zomby, Actress and Burial – and while much of the more technical discussion of sound manipulation and reconstruction goes way over my head, on a basic level it makes perfect sense to think of Burial in such forward-thinking terms.
As first indicated by his incredible reworks of Massive Attack last year and further developed on ‘Kindred’, there is something of a breakdown in the solidity of individual “tracks”; in fact it feels more useful to describe the three pieces on ‘Kindred’ as soundscapes. Moving in an organic, free-flowing manner, with little regard for the textural confines of song, Burial journeys through a sonic meeting of discord and melody that constantly keeps the listener second-guessing. Listening to Burial on a dark, soggy night remains one of the most transcendent musical experiences I can ever recall having, and this progressive, mercurial EP evidences an artist making firm, confident strides in his musical development. We can only hope that the long awaited follow up to 2007’s ‘Untrue’ will be with us sooner rather than later.