William Bevan, South London. That’s about all that is known about the human being behind the name Burial. In terms of what he’s done to the landscape of dubstep however, much more is known. Burial’s deeply textured tracks have expanded the darkest reaches of the UK-grown bass genre, and utterly transformed what can be done with sampling. His tracks are hand-built, extremely carefully, from minute snippets of movies, television shows, old jungle and garage tunes, and London Underground echoes. Burial’s debut and sophomore albums are both considered atmospheric masterpieces, made of the ‘dark light’ that Burial says he finds at the back of the nightclub. Since those more conventional albums, things have been getting experimental with releases like Kindred and Truant/Rough Sleeper.
Rival Dealer EP is another installment of sprawling, multi-movement suites. Fittingly, the release bubbled up into the public eye rather than landing amongst huge media hype. The titular track is an incredibly bold opener, a gritty and harsh breaks tune. Burial re-employs the technique of the all-too-organic sounding screech lead in combination with the heartthrob RnB sample. The beat drops in and out schitzophrenically, a disjointed and corrupted rave that can’t seem to hold it together for more than a half a dozen bars.
Playing spot-the-sample is as rewarding as ever, with sources such as police scanners and dial-up tones adding to the unfriendly atmosphere. As is often the case with this kind of track from Bevan, a clearly defined movement comes in around halfway through the track. “I have chosen you…” and a chaos that threatens to approach critical mass builds over a familiar train-on-the-tracks beat. We’re 7:30 in and there are vivid flashbacks to Burial’s first LP as luscious, organic strings hum into the mix - no beat. It is in these quiet moments, with a delicately chopped vocal frittering over infinite space, that I’m reminded of Burial’s skill in commanding an incredible array of disparate samples to invoke raw emotion. As the pan-pipes, the distant organ, the strings, all complement the montage of intimate little whispers put together at the end of the track, the bold opener of this EP draws to a close.
Hiders opens with a surprisingly lucid piano refrain, that layers over itself to become an obtusely euphoric build. It seems that Burial can do no wrong when it comes to cutting vocals out of thin air to say exactly what he wants to. The chopping in this track is more idiosyncratic than usual, in some places sounding like a GLaDOS recital; things even get hokey at one point as that indie beat comes in. However, the second movement begins after a brief rainy pause, and things take a darker turn. Truly ominous pipe noises are punctuated by panicked-sounding vocal cuts that blend into the final track. The opening chords of Come Down To Us brought me the realisation that some of Burial’s melodies have a kind of distant hymnal-like quality, but then the intertextuality of Burial’s style blew that all out of the water by blending into a kind of ersatz hip-hop tune, with Indian influences. The second movement of this track exhibits a bizarrely dry, and yet distorted hip-hop beat, that breaks into grains underneath cheesy 80s synth pads and motivational sounding vocal cuts.
The last breaths of Come Down To Us, from transgender ambassador Lana Wachowski, are a reminder of what Burial’s art really is. Bevan waves the conductor’s baton, and a million disparate breaths are summoned into order to tell an extremely nuanced and powerful story. The pure density of what Burial is trying to say preclude you from walking away from your first listen having received a clear message. Instead you must keep returning, to feel those stabs of pathos provided by the perfect arrangement of an RnB sigh and an impossibly echoey sitar, or perhaps of a raindrop and a wood knock.
Burial’s adoption of a multi-movement symphonist is so suitable because it is a form that more closely represents what it is that he does: arrange the banal into the beautiful.