Review Summary: A retrospective for Untrue's tenth birthday (a little late)
There is how music is made and there is how it is used. With most immediate music journalism stuck on the former, it is up to youtube comments, rateyourmusic reviews and more private conversations to let us know what an album becomes. Now a decade since Untrue
’s release, the importance of the production itself has melted into the cultural phenomenon of Untrue
still burning. There is a kind of comfort in thinking about someone, just today, playing this album for the first time and beginning to explore what I might as well call “post-rave” music, or post-rave culture. It means the album is still alive.
The post- of post-rave lies in the fact the rave scene is dead for a great many people, certainly many more than those who still huddle round the candle of a scene that still exists and always threatens to snuff out for good. The mass culture is gone, there is no avoiding this. In its place, increasingly corporatised festivals, dwindling night clubs and shortly doomed micro-scenes recreate something of the former euphoria without the original promise. On the horizon looms the next stage, “real life,” from which all that ecstasy and freedom was a minor distraction.
At the same time, an echo of rave still lingers today. This is the -rave of post-rave, which Mark Fisher picked up on with Burial’s first release: music for the people who grow up into the aftermath of something that is not going to come back but is still somehow present, to walk through puddles of another generation’s memories. In articulating this experience, Burial helped to unite so many individual experiences into a collective consciousness. At first, the all-too-familiar eeriness of his debut, the echo of rave experienced by those who were never a part of it. Then the emotional realisation of collective loss in Untrue
, its spectral voices calling out for help, letting later EPs explore the healing process (“Kindred”, “Come Down To Us”, “Young Death”) and some of the ‘what comes next"’ (“Truant”, “Loner”); though not without a few relapses into nostalgic desperation for the long gone (“Temple Sleeper”).
The death of rave is one thing, the common experience of the ‘00s still seeping into the ‘10s is another. Untrue
unearths a pulse that goes beyond the demise of UK rave culture. These years have been awful, like a never-ending series of comedowns, and like most comedowns it involves long periods of isolation. Perhaps the most enduring Untrue
trope is the lonely walker, hood up, late at night, skirting drunks and shimmering neon puddles. Content matches the headphone experience to articulate a general sense of being cut off, near but alone.
The feeling is strong enough that in many cases listeners hear what they want to. This is somewhat intentional: lead single “Archangel” gets its name from a pitch-shifted and reverbed “holding you.” Elsewhere, “Shell of Light’s” looped outro “God can you please whisper in her ear, I wasn’t sure if we could be friends” can morph to the more despairing “God can you please hurry and find me…”
would not have been so successful if it merely articulated these experiences. It also added to them, turning otherwise desperate night bus rides into deeply meaningful moments. I do not think the small thread of religious references is meaningless (Archangel, God can you please...). A spirituality is at work here, a kind of transcendental materialism in which our deadened worlds breathed out new meaning. Tower blocks sighed sub-bass, rain-slick pavements carried us home; even McDonalds became a holy place of refuge with its own pitch-shifted choir.
The outburst of feeling this inspires is undeniable. Often for the first time, Untrue
speaks to many of a world in which they actually live. Not the world of 20 years ago, or of more exclusive worlds we might voyeuristically tune into, but one existing for many people as they listen. Not everyone, it’s true, but enough and for long enough to leave a lasting impact on millions, spawn several genres dedicated to exploring the ground it unearthed and, from the viewpoint of 10 years later, remain one of the most impressive albums of its decade.
Even now, writing 1000 miles and half a continent away from the first place I heard it, Untrue
holds its aura. 8am buses home are mostly behind me, and the echoes here are not of rave but a century of horror, but there was a time when I needed this album and it was there. A kind of gratitude comes out of listening to Untrue now, and the happy realisation that it is still there for plenty of others too.