Review Summary: Once upon a time it was you that I adore, but now you look different...
There’s been a longstanding debate in the dubstep community that’s been raging for the better part of three years now regarding Will Bevan’s ability to sustain himself in the ever changing landscape of this new and seemingly amorphous retro-fitted garage uprising. Admittedly he never fully disappeared into the murky darkness, with single tracks intermittently scattered throughout the last few years, popping up in various comps and stealthily leaking onto varying social networking sites. But even teaming up with Four Tet hasn’t been enough to stop the squabbling and unnecessary conjecture being spouted from the mouths of people unfamiliar with a time when Burial worked without an identity. Opinionated yet equally as faceless as the subject, there are those convinced that perhaps Bevan has done his dash. That even though he was one of the first, and ultimately the most successful, to wander into the garage roots of dubstep, his somewhat absence from the scene has sadly become his undoing. And looking back you can get a feel for what these people are trying to prove; Untrue
changed the face of dubstep forever, for anyone not familiar with the genre the album became a calling card, a landmark. And in its wake sprang forth a number of artists with hopes of capitalizing on its overwhelming success. And after all the press coverage, the mercury prize nomination and The Independent deciding Burial’s fate for him, Bevan retreated and left everyone to fend for themselves. The thing is though, they did. James Blake is now the next big thing, and Synkro and Clubroot are darlings of the online publication world. And just as dubstep has now invaded the clubs of the world, new talent has emerged and pushed the genre even further into unmapped territories. Joy Orbison has mysteriously reappeared as a tech house messiah, and labels such as Night Slugs have latched onto house music and tailored it to suit their needs. So here’s where the million dollar question needs to be asked folks: is more of the same really going to be enough at this point? Or is it possibly time for a change?
The biggest drawpoint for Burial has always been his DIY approach to music, the almost archaic equipment used to facilitate the process only adding to the now trademark signatures of Bevan’s work. But in a world now fully consumed by expert precision and crystal clean production Burial has almost found himself lost in the dust that he pours over every beat and line. But it’s always been more than just a novelty for Burial, it’s been the very fabric that’s tied his revivalist tales together. There’s never been a desire to make his music become anything more than just humble blue collar odes to the world around him. Songs for street corners and anthems for the underground. So it’s a little surprising then when ‘Street Halo’ emerges with its steady pulse of a beat and focused drive. All the standard hallmarks of Bevan are present; the grit in the air and the vinyl hiss deliciously crackling in the background, the throbbing bass still threatening to engulf the loose percussion. But it’s a much more simple approach this time around, the twitchy paranoia of Untrue
replaced with a more tribal and hypnotizing anchor. It seemingly skirts around the idea of tech house, replacing the restless and ever-shifting destruction of previous numbers with a more rigid frame, a more solid foundation. There’s still a sense of lonesome discomfort tied up in the architecture, but it almost seems at peace with its isolation. More accepting and ready to move on than to dwell and disintegrate.
The first b-side, ‘NYC’, is a haunting reprisal of Burial’s past skeletons, the re-imagined ghost of his dreams. It somewhat acts as a support piece, a reference point for his previous works. It bears resemblance (as all Burial tracks are inextricably tied together) to his contribution to Hyperdub’s anniversary collection, ‘Fostercare’. Its slow underpinnings play host to a mournful ambiguity, those ever present detached vocals working like the death cry of a long deserted urban backdrop. There’s a crushing atmosphere at its core, a kind of claustrophobic turmoil and unwilling acceptance. He hides echoed whispers and scratchy cries in the track’s makeup, the shrouded bass always dropping a notch to accommodate the intrusion. The same trait can be found in ‘Stolen Dog’, where they almost form the drawing points that hold the track’s sprawling nature in check, those hurriedly sampled street corner lamentations swirling in a haze of hastily assembled structures and blurry designs. A dusty piano line marks out the only other constant in the track, sometimes masked by the dense layers that roll out of the murky shadows. It provides a kind of innocence to the song, stumbling along for almost the entirety of the track seemingly filling the scratchy emptiness with comforting warmth. Again, it’s something new for Bevan, a sign that he is willing and able to progress deeper into the rabbit hole in order to move on.
At first glance this new EP by Burial seems like more of the same, but hidden in the maelstrom lurks something a little different, at times more upbeat than anything before it and yet also seemingly more minimal in the same breath. The smartest thing that Will Bevan could ever have done has happened. Never actually being called up on essentially producing the same album twice, here he’s taken a few steps back and stripped his beats back to the bare minimum before approaching the music in a completely new fashion. And this is only a sign of things to come, a taster when it was needed most. Street Halo
marks the beginning of something new for Burial, something just a little different. And as great as these three tracks are, the main beauty of this album is marked by its somewhat foreign nature, how at times it seems so familiar and yet so utterly alien at the same time, like getting lost in the streets you call home when you view them through midnight eyes.