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Review: Burial

Review by way of response to K-Punk on the soon-come Burial album on Hyperdub. Dissensus is the comment box…

EDIT: More thoughts on Burial and kind words on my post from k-punk.


k-punk: I actually, genuinely can’t believe how good this album is… I’m having trouble listening to anything else, and every time I do listen to it, I find something new in it.

This is what I’ve been experiencing with the Breezeblock set, sometimes listening on repeat for a couple of hours at a time. I’m mesmerised by it – like it doesn’t matter if I hear anything else. I certainly don’t feel like I should bother making music anymore because everything I might have wanted to do is here. That sounds hyperbolic, but I’ve only felt this way maybe once or twice before with an album. The last one was the first Boards of Canada album for a lot of the reasons mentioned in the Ghost Box discussion. On MHTRTC there’s a lilt in second track where time seems to split in two. That’s what I keep feeling when I hear the wordless vocal in ‘Forgive’ (? – 3:00 into the BB set). Gravity and Weightlessness.

But this sensibility in Burial is closer to early jungle’s contradictory pull/propulsion – the gravity of the bass + breaks that operate as hauntological shards and futurhythmachine at the same time. As a hauntological music I see a major difference between Burial on one hand, and BOC and Ghost Box on the other. With the latter the emphasis in on nostalgia, even if it’s a cold, impersonal one at times. The uncertainty hinges on a potential past felt in a blur of media and childhood memories that could have been had or later inferred. Whereas Burial’s nostalgia drives into the future. It reminds me of a car purposefully moving through a cold wet city night while a passenger stares, heart-in-throat, out the back window, remembering places and people as they pass. There’s a sense of the future being a necessity in Burial (and ghostly parallel futures just as much) whereas BOC and GB are cocoon-like.


Other thoughts: The link to EVP is right on. In Burial’s music there’s a sense of immersion in a density of signal and of searching for meaningful threads. I’ve also just realised that, for me, sonically, it’s vividly reminiscent of growing up in Winnipeg near the train yards, and hearing their horns and screeches wafting for miles through the thick summer air. So, there we go, back to childhood.

But one thing that I’ve been thinking about for the last while is the value of this idea of a hardcore continuum. Even tracing a continuous line between actual developments in British dance musics over the last two decades is difficult enough. I’d say there are multiple, intersecting lines of flight and that those get so tangled up from time to time that radically mutated threads end up spinning out. But then consider the lost and parallel threads that Burial illustrates. Feminine pressure, for example, can be seen as a tendency that periodically coincides with these threads but is repeatedly ejected from the main streams for the same reasons. I know the ‘nuum is easy shorthand for the major developments in British dance music, but I think it also hides too much of the chaos and the politics.

I think Mark and Burial himself are absolutely right that his tracks bring an uncommon emotional depth and texture to dubstep when it has, in some quarters, become overly concerned with sonic purity (“austerity’) and reproducing some of the dead-end, inhuman elements of techstep. But to characterise dubstep on the whole in that way is too broad. Digital Mystikz, Skull Disco, Kode 9 and Distance come to mind immediately as examples of dubstep artists trying quite successfully to avoid dirge and the amputation of emotion. Personally, I think the splits are going to start happening soon, the way they did in DnB, but with somewhat different results.

Finally, Mark’s comment on dubstep deploying dub-as-positive-entity is also interesting. I wonder if this is part of the reason for John Eden (according to his posts about it) not having much interest in the music. But I think dubstep is an exercise in subtraction-in-process of a different sort. Instead of literally dubbing out a vocal or instrument, it’s dubbing the formal elements of 2step/early-dubstep itself. Halfstep (which will, admittedly, run itself into the ground if it becomes the ideal) is probably the most pronounced example of this. The missing percussive elements are still experienced but as a known absence, and they’re often gestured at in the science of the bass.

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Originally posted at autonomicforthepeople blog.

Category: Reviews

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Riddim.ca was founded by DJ/writer paul autonomic (aka Mr. Bump) in February 2005 as a hub for North America's nascent grime and dubstep scenes. Since then we've helped promote events across the continent and made friends around the world. Mostly dormant now, we're host to one of the web's largest collections of writing on the late-Garage dis/continuum as well as a growing collection of rare audio and scans (coming eventually).