Review Summary: Who are you?/This is who I am... You know my sound
It seems almost pedestrian at this point to preface a review for new Burial material by once again making reference to the conceptual underpinnings of William Bevan’s alter ego; music heard second hand has since been ritualised over and replicated like the last candle held up in recognition against the deafening onslaught of progression. Yet the lineage of rave culture is one that Bevan still belongs to, if even only by distant association – the continuum that’s permeated throughout every facet of UK dance music still trickles and bubbles along merrily, resurrected and bemoaned in equal abundance. Though the embodiment of this design has shifted greatly over the last 2 and a bit decades, it still serves as a prism with which to view the continuing culture of dance music, as seen through the eyes of some of the world’s greatest practioners. Every step that Bevan has ever taken as Burial has been laden with the weight of mythology, as if all the echo and distance in his work were bogged down in the very real and physical power of history.
If Bevan has ever thought about this, he’s been reluctant to display it – his music, a collage of loss and isolation brokered through a lens of pragmatic romanticism has always been dryly ambiguous, as relevant to all in place of being merely conceptually influential to the small but dedicated. That Rival Dealer
should eschew such an all-encompassing acceptance for something more fortuitously confrontational is perhaps the far more bigger shift in styles that should be addressed and debated over by the thousands of wide-eyed naysayers over at dsf.com and the like, than any apparent shifts in Burial’s musical makeup.
might very well be the Ghost of Christmas Past that more than a few have chalked it up to be, and Burial’s declaration that this latest batch of mini-opuses be treated as “anti-bullying tunes” certainly takes nothing away from the far more mercurial sense of acceptance and, dare I say happiness, that this latest release finds itself almost soaked in, but his decision to begin the release with that
kind of an opening salvo certainly pre-empts any accusations that Bevan is pandering to a lighter crowd. There’s an almost perverse sense of satisfaction as the EPs title track breaks past its Gavin Degraw-sampling prelude into a breakbeat fresh out of yesteryear, stifling any and all held breaths and crossed fingers, revealing, in lightning-quick fashion, a tune more raver than ‘Raver’.
Perhaps Burial’s greatest trick lies in his ability to turn the familiar into something of an entirely different nature, pilfering not just from the world around him but even back in time, turning the old and tired, the weary and forgotten, into something fresh and full of vitriol, mining his old gospels like a shaman until it becomes something very much a part of now
. The rest of his repertoire remains on full display, and on ‘Rival Dealer’, along with the release as a whole, he kicks his abilities into overdrive, presenting a narrative-infused work more vocally ferocious than anything since his 2007 superhero disappeared into an emotional maelstrom on Untrue
’s title track. His snippets of dialogue are disembodied, swirling in a vortex of squelching acid bass and the pops and clicks of a reanimated ‘Ashtray Wasp’, reappearing like talismans in the ether, acting as both an alluring intoxicant and an indulgent romantic epiphany.
‘Hiders’ (aka Everybody Needs a Montage) turns these declarations from a whisper to a caterwhaul, a funereal dirge that apes one of the many beasts to form amidst the towering shadow of Untrue
’s tower of influence – the dented white boy r&b of How To Dress Well and the eternally mournful James Blake. Here though Burial plays with the conceptions, fully aware of his audience for perhaps the first time, turning his siren song into a cathedral-sized anthem of 80s pop machinations, that surprisingly, takes very little away from its cosmic undertones. It might not be Bevan’s finest moment, but it’s the po-faced rigidity of the artist that keeps the track from turning into the blunder that many have deemed it to be. Sandwiched between two marathons certainly alleviates the tune somewhat from its tidal-sized rekindling of Burial’s phantom itch for the fuzzy raver embrace, but clocking in at just under a respectable 5 minute mark lends the tune a surprising degree of accessibility that many have forgotten Bevan capable of crafting since the days of 4am roof-blasting ‘Archangel’ across a skyline of lovers dorms.
It also provides a degree of breathing space in preparation for ‘Come Down With Us’ , a song that begins with ‘Rival Dealer’ – a crawling piece of dark matter referenced across the entire release, its placement as the last chapter of this piece irrelevant in regards to its role as the nucleus for Burial’s latest paradigm. Snippets are dotted over the album’s runtime like scraps of faded paper, diluted and stained until Bevan shines a light under them. It harkens back to his work with Massive Attack, juxtaposing narrative with initial emptiness, a seismic black hole, bordered by a smoke punch of rumble and clatter; catering to a sitar melody, the notes dangle in thin air like lightbulbs bouncing on phantom strings. Drenched in rain, it moves through motifs in the suite-like fashion that Burial perfected on Kindred
, and stretched to breaking point on the slightly-disappointing follow-up, the double A side of Truant/Rough Sleeper
. As it moves from organ-grinding death march to soft rock melancholy, it takes with it much of the darkness that’s become such a staple of Burial’s archive, placing the track’s final refrain at a pinpoint somewhere directly blow a hole in the clouds, ringing it in a haphazard halo.
The unfiltered and untouched excerpt from Lana Wachowski’s moving Human Rights Campaign speech is about as bold-faced as Burial has ever been within his role as a street corner stenographer, though the sample seems more to be in favour as a pretext to the notion of an acceptance being seen as a basic human right regardless of religious, racial, gender or sexual affiliation, thus negating any real need to view the use of such as a confession as an admission on the same scale as say, Frank Ocean’s open letter. That Rival Dealer
should have a mind to speak on such issues as peace and unity certainly doesn’t solidify the shaky ground that Burial’s intentional tweaking of his apparently defined sound has left him on, but it certainly isn’t enough to knock him off either, even from the most cynical of listeners.
Talk of pretension aside, Rival Dealer
is an important piece of work, a genuinely astounding and jaw-dropping release that deserves every pair of ears it can find. Its divisiveness is a by-product of an artist who is only now finally beginning to sound comfortable with himself, someone who has a lot to say and is only now beginning to find the voice, or voices, to actually say it. Where he goes from here is a redundant conversation that will only end with excited anticipation, but for those of us who have accepted Rival Dealer
as yet another milestone for Burial, the irony of a release inspired by thoughts of unity conjuring so much hatred and virtriol is not lost. Rival Dealer
might have loftier than usual ambitions, but at its core it’s still music for those blue collar 9 to 5’ers, who from 5 to 9 crafted their own versions of superheroes – this release, once again, belongs to those “kindred spirits”.