Elusive South London producer Burial’s latest release is yet another reminder of his improving genius, writes Buster Stonham.
Burial’s reclusiveness when it comes to the press and the mysteriousness that surrounds his identity certainly add to his image as a lone genius creating genre shattering underground music from some forgotten South London tower block. But, this lack of public communication can sometimes worry fans about when and if his next offering will be released. Since his last full length album, Untrue, released on his own Hyperdub label in 2007, the South London producer has released a number of shorter EPs and singles, working with big names like Thom Yorke, Four Tet and Massive Attack. The lack of fanfare surrounding these releases is typical of Burial’s reclusive style, instead, they emerge from the mist like fully formed monoliths to reassure the fans that he’s still there, still making music and still experimenting.
But, unlike many other artists, these EPs aren’t just a stopgap of uninteresting material not good enough to be considered for an album proper, Burial’s EPs really feel like a means to develop his sound and create genuinely interesting pieces that easily stand up alongside his best work. The Kindred EP from 2012, for instance, made in onto our list of the top 10 albums of the year and was described by Piers Barber as “the darkest yet most hopeful composition that Burial has produced to date.” Burial’s decision not to conform to the conventional pattern of album releases has afforded him more freedom to explore his music and develop his style into something that is increasingly characterised by beautifully textured and atmospheric soudscapes, increasingly epic length.
On first listen both ‘Truant’ and ‘Rough Sleeper’ appear to be archetypal Burial tracks, with simple drum samples, crackling static and haunting female vocal loops creating that uniquely dreamy atmosphere that characterises all his work. But, with both tracks clocking in at well over 10 minutes, there’s a whole lot more going on here. Both tracks showcase a new technique to Burial’s work. At a number of points in each track, there is a break in the hypnotic rhythm, like a train stopping at a station, and when the track picks up again new elements and layers are introduced to build a more complex soundscape, like a composer introducing new themes to a piece. ‘Rough Sleeper,’ for instance, starts off simply enough but slowly grows with the addition of vocal loops and chiming bells until it sounds almost like an orchestral piece. Similarly, ‘Truant’ starts off light and ethereal, but introduces a deep pulsating bass line halfway through that takes the track down an unexpected, much darker path.
Overall, Truant/Rough Sleeper really exhibits the continuing innovation and experimentation that makes Burial such a special artist, and we can rest easy in the knowledge that he’s still out there and that there’s plenty more to come from him.