With the off-chance you’ve been living under a bubble, which I guess is what this post really is all about, you probably know already that UK producer Burial released some new material this week, along with some output from his collaboration with producer Four Tet and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke.
Both releases are on that level of “expertly crafted opus”, with Burial’s home-taped recorded aesthetic that sorta puts the entire dubstep canon into some kind of longing past. The usual left-field R&B samples and the ambient flushes that pretty much make a Burial track. I really don’t wanna break it down to a formula because even with that formula, producers cannot make what Burial makes. It’s a very fluid formula that has no real ground.
Honestly, Burial’s music, to me, feels like it was made in the future and perceives past music trends like house, dubstep, jungle with nostalgia and sadness. Weird to ever think of jungle, probably the most kinetic and frantic areas in the bpm range, as tear-jerking fodder. But yeah, Burial is able to make these communities of music with sympathy and make anxiety out of the process of its creation.
Even Burial’s last record Untrue has a dude on the cover looking angsty and depressed.
And these are all the thoughts and feelings I get just from listening to the A-side to his recent Hyperdub release.
“Street Halo”, surprisingly, draws more from the house music, 4-to-the-floor structures than the ever-present half step tempo that Burial used in his other records/releases. Well, I guess with the exception of Street Dog, which deploys it, but still. I think it’s refreshing to really dissect the types of influences Burial draws from. Given his mysterious aesthetic and lack of media appearances, it’s harder to really get down to what he’s aiming for. People like SBTRKT and Zomby, who don’t really show their face or give interviews, at least shove subtext to the side and go all out with what kind of genres they’re leaning on.
Burial masks everything with layers upon layers, and even the samples he cuts up are altered and shifted to sound different. Like did you know that Archangel has a Ray-Jay sample? That shit blew my mind when I heard it. Mainly because a) that’s the kind of stuff he’s listening to and b) who cares about Ray-Jay?
But does that say more about the sample, the person, the production, or the idea of using the sample to begin with? It may have more to do with the latter. I’m sure he chose that sample as a means for melody and mood, but maybe it means something a little more than just the way it sounds. The track is backed with a loop from a Metal Gear Solid cut scene, making it sound operatic and epic.
Maybe he’s making a comment on childhood? Longing? Nobody really knows, and I think it’s best to just leave it that way so as to not work your head that much. But I think a lot can be said with those simple electronic signifiers, especially about the artist and their intentions.
I think that within these years of near-silence and hiatus (with the exception of random remixes) Burial has entered a range that, I think, shares the ranks with people like Thom Yorke, Sonic Youth, Bjork– people that can sustain a consistent experimental trajectory, and simultaneously maintain crossover appeal. These artists can find themselves on Billboard charts, but also keep a stronghold within the CMJ Top 200 charts. That kind of thing never happens.
Usually when an artist starts out with that really groundbreaking, forward-leaning footprint, it’s hard for them to receive some type of mainstream acclaim with future releases, and still maintain those first fans. I guess someone like James Blake comes to mind, who for me has dissapointed me in his departure from the choppy productions for the pub croon electronic thing he’s doing.
But even with this direction for something new, artists like them will tire of their current creative project and redirect it for something entirely original. And that’s what make these artists more than just “dubstep DJs”.