The Observer Music Monthly, 17th June 2006
by Simon Reynolds
The mystery-shrouded artist known only as Burial is affiliated to the dubstep scene, a sister-genre to grime that this year looks set to eclipse its waning sibling. Running in parallel for the past half-decade, both these London underground sounds rely on the same pirate radio infrastructure and share a common history in UK garage and jungle. But dubstep is a largely instrumental style bigger on mood than on personality (no shouty MCs here). It's also a site-specific music, its bass-heavy menace achieving full impact only through a massive sound system in a dark, crammed club. Burial's self-titled debut is the first record from the scene to transcend that context. Its evocative atmospherics and enfolding ambience make it a perfect lose-yourself soundtrack for headphones or lights-low living room listening.
'Distant Lights' blueprints the basic Burial sound: an ominously amorphous bass-rumble and a frantic-yet-subdued two-step beat are countered by the slow-motion mournfulness of the track's other elements, a yearning vocal sample and a reverb-blurry trumpet, like Kenny Wheeler wilting in a Temazepam swoon. Titles such as 'Night Bus' pinpoint Burial's subject as the melancholy and anomie of city life, while 'Southern Comfort' localises the vibe further to south London. But the feeling this music creates - imagine the Blue Nile circa 1989's 'Downtown Lights' but with the euphoria turned to sorrow - is something any metropolis-dweller anywhere on the planet will understand: sensations of grandeur and possibility battling with desolation and entrapment.
There's a simmering, suppressed violence bubbling inside Burial's music which conjures images of a city full of damaged people ready to inflict damage on others. But there's also a hovering grace and tenderness that makes me think of Wim Wenders's film Wings of Desire - a quality that emerges most clearly on 'Forgive', a beatless ache of sound threaded with the sounds of cleansing rainfall.
This album actually comes complete with a concept (it's a sound-portrait of a near-future south London submerged under water, New Orleans-style) while the most compelling readings of its theme hear it as a requiem for the lost dreams of rave culture. But the non-specific sadness that shimmers inside this music ultimately transcends attempts to pin it to a place, period, or population.
You can imagine Burial's tremulous poignancy reaching out to hurt and heal all kinds of listeners - fans of David Sylvian and Harold Budd, Massive Attack and Boards of Canada, Radiohead and Joy Division. This music can go far.
by Simon Reynolds
by Simon Reynolds
Enigmatic British producer Burial doesn’t make dance music so much as music inspired by dance culture. His fidgety, clacking beats mimic the hyper-syncopated bustle of styles like
garage, but he's more concerned with heartbreak than booty-shake. The
Burial sound taps into the sadness secreted at the heart of the nightclub
experience, the way feelings of blissful dancefloor community give way to the
poignant comedown of heading home alone in the cold gray light of dawn. Influenced by the painfully ecstastic
soul-diva loops of Nineties rave, Untrue uses sampled voices more
prominently than last year’s self-titled debut. But only “ Archangel”
gets anywhere close to being an anthem. Instead, the album works as
an ambient whole, its fog-bank synths, yearning slivers of vocal and stoic
basslines filling your room with cinematic melancholy. Shrouded in crackle and
condensation, Untrue is like the “lost like tears in rain,” dying
android scene from Blade Runner, looped for eternity.