Review Summary: Tonight, I'm gonna hold you tight. But in time, maybe I'll let you go.
Burial has released a lot of music since the mid-2000s, crafting a discography that’s almost as consistent as it is (auto)biographical. With just a couple of missteps toward the tail end of this run, he's never truly lost steam—though the quality may have dipped briefly, the music still sounds
like Burial, which can be a more meaningful barometer of the X factor we look for when a favorite artist comes out with new music. Despite this, his EPs were
starting to feel stale, and I think we were all expecting (hoping) for something great this time around, something that would remind us why we fell in love with Burial in the first place. I'm delighted to say that Chemz / Dolphinz delivers. Sort of.
Taking a similar to approach to his Claustro / State Forest release, here Burial lays a banger on one side and an ambient chugger on the other. Unlike "Claustro," though, "Chemz" is multi-layered, harking back to the days of Kindred yore where the producer first explored this long-form approach. In this way, the new EP is simultaneously a return to form and a further exploration of his sound. “Chemz” has the familiar markings of a Burial tune: London haze, clicks, clacks, filtered and pitch-bended r&b vocals, stepping rhythm. But as it goes on, it morphs into a fresh mixture of hardcore, serving up some of the heaviest, most frenetic sections we've heard from Burial yet.
Maybe this is why he opts for such a long ambient tune on the B-side. Though it does have quality atmosphere and feels
like it has narrative, it can also feel like a mere landing pad after the chaotic beauty of the A-side. Alas, even if it's meant to serve as a foil to its companion, the length and relative emptiness of “Dolphinz” makes the overall package feel lopsided, disjointed, missing perhaps one other song to feel like a proper release. Those willing to be patient may see this long ambient number grow on them, but it's undeniably a weakness of the EP in context.
But the most remarkable thing about Chemz / Dolphinz is how referential it is. By this point, most folks know that this music is sample-heavy and stands on the shoulders of giants (sometimes even Burial’s own shoulders), but here, the weight of his self-reference is notable. This approach invigorates the music with a new sense of reflection, as the producer gazes upon his past in a way that he hasn't quite
done since the early 2010s.
By the same token, I don't think it's a coincidence that the most recent release before this one was a compilation spanning his whole discography. Chemz / Dolphinz similarly feels like a summation and shedding process of everything Burial has done prior, and while it may not touch some of his finest work, it's essential Burial and certainly some of his best material in years. I'm hopeful that the next release will break from the mould he's formed, but until then...don't sleep on this one.