Review Summary: An upward journey out of a vortex of despair
As under-the-radar as he may be, south London producer William Bevan, aka Burial, has made some sizable ripples on the electronic music scene. Electronic music as a whole is largely marginalized in favor of run-of-the-mill mainstream house tracks and largely derivative dubstep outings. While these obviously have their appropriate setting, it does unfortunately mean that progressive artists who attempt to push genre boundaries tend to be swept under the Persian rug of mediocrity. What a joy it is, then, to experience a memorable journey of restraint and isolation as appropriately troubling as this. Burial’s seventh EP, and the only one of his releases to explore a consistent theme throughout, Rival Dealer
has been promoted as having a pertinent anti-bullying message that manifests itself rather obviously upon first listen. These themes are not bludgeoning and are not part of some misinformed charity drive, but are ultimately very effective and are made all the more valid and relevant by their execution. Despite the fact there are vocal bytes that relate to this overarching message, it is the music that conveys the theme with utmost precision, the many subtle complexities forming a simple whole that always flawlessly epitomize the degradation and slight sense of hope so often associated with the theme. This is not your typical electronic album, this is a distorted soundscape that consistently challenges, even in its’ comparatively lighter moments.
The 11 minute title track that begins the release very much sets the tone and pace for the arrangements that follow. The drum and bass style of the initial rhythm is hypnotic, as is the accompanying vocal samples that set a precedent for their utilization in tracks 2 and 3. The beats are ever simple, as are the melodies, and they loop continuously. Far from becoming repetitive and bland, however, the sound develops a somewhat ambient feel, a carefully maintained tone of fractured consciousness that is both confrontational and passive. The sound of an alarm is heard periodically (an addition that is later revisited on the album's final movement, 'Come Down To Us'), punctuating various bass lines and bridge sections with an idiosyncratic cue that both shatters the soothing drone and connects breaks in the audio, all the while working impossibly well. This is not, however, the ringing alarm sound typically associated with EDM. This is a piercing electronic whine that shudders with cold, high-pitched efficiency, creating an effect of nauseous disorientation; a feeling that we as humans have come to attribute to the sound. Contextually, it is a masterful production choice, and because it is present for less than thirty seconds during the EP’s entire runtime, it displays convincingly how a little can go a long way. The piece later evolves into a more bass-driven affair, before plummeting to a quiet interlude that ultimately serves as the track’s outro. It feels an almost premature conclusion, but this is clearly a creative choice, emulating a misleading situation, an anticlimactic outcome, and an abrupt conclusion. Another segue into the rhythm section would not only be unnecessary, but also negate the wind-down nature of the track’s latter stages.
'Hiders' is the shortest song on the album, and serves as a small link of sorts between the 1st and 3rd tracks. Beginning with the gentle trickle of rain and a soft piano hook, a drumbeat reminiscent of 80′s-style pop rock is genial and exceptionally fresh in the context of a release as tonally murky as this. Unlike the era of music it clearly takes influences from, though, the drum beat is not brisk and inspirational in style, but a plodding, rhythmic experiment in pace and sound flux. Despite its uplifting message and composition, the arrangement, much like the rest of the release, is disconcertingly dark, dripping with filth in the form of feedback loops and hideous distortion, rendering the tones imperfectly soothing and paradoxically disquieting at the same time.
This EP midpoint leads directly into 'Come Down To Us', a high point amidst an EP of nothing but towering peaks. The rhythm and melody are majestic, warping into a mind-numbing cataclysm of soaring electronic heights, whilst all the while maintaining an air of supreme minimalism. The most wonderful thing about this effect is that it is complete illusion, a pepper’s ghost effect rising from the innumerable intricacies ever-present throughout Rival Dealer
. Still more clipped vocals are added to these and created is a twisted ambient composition; an upward journey out of a vortex of despair. This journey towards light is furthered by the pitch-bent chimes that are introduced at the outset and used again mid-way through, adding to the optimism and the controlled sense of progression. Such motifs are woven around by the recurring melody, as is the thicker distortion and the larger number of vocal clips, which contort and negotiate the discrepancies in tone with vicious, subdued flair.
The second movement of this track is more triumphant still, with a more pronounced, sprightly rhythm, but also more obvious modern musical influences, such as a high-pitched but subtly integrated tune, high frequency descents, and even brief record scratch effects, reminiscent of ’80′s dance and hip-hop tracks. The recycled mantra of “love me” is both haunting and thick with desperate emotion, and serves as a cat call to build up the unstable bridge section. This escalation is shattered by the evocative utterance of “You are not alone”, and listeners are instantly transported back to the uplifting rhythm section, bass emphasized and rhythm stably looped once again. Audio tics, such as the simulation of a needle hesitating over the small imperfections on the side of a record, are both out of place and painfully fitting, merging the old and the new school forms of electronic music into a maze-like and extensively penned simplification of explicit electronic strands. The final vocal movement, a memorable speech for a Human Rights Campaign, is tragic and emotive, and a completely fitting way to end the track. The music itself transmits absolutely, but this creative choice not only serves as a final blow to the piece, but also as a notable loudspeaker for those whom the album truly concerns.
is an important piece of work that deserves undivided attention. Any listeners who are familiar with the producer’s former output will know what to expect, but, as always, it is the application of these musical aspects that makes the release completely unique. The use of a singular theme adds a definitive focus this time around, but not in a demanding manner that insists the listener conform to a particular viewpoint. To the contrary, it is a theme mainly constructed by the music itself, much in the same way as a classical conceptual piece, whilst always being careful to never veer to close to what could be termed abstract or sound art. It is difficult to term the style precisely, but the grimy edge marks it as somewhat industrial, and the rhythms bear more than a passing resemblance to ’90′s garage, as evidenced by Bevan’s South London upbringing. Such influences inform the sound, but never let it be said that Burial is anything other than completely unique. His sound is overpowering in its’ minimalism, his production choices often baffling but undeniably apt, and as a complete experience, Rival Dealer
is utterly captivating. Savor it, remember it forever.