Burial – ‘Truant’ EP (Hyperdub)

Having reviewed Burial’s releases a number of times over the years, it can become frustrating thinking up new ways in which to illustrate Will Bevan’s illustrious musical character without resorting to now well-worn analogies – night travel, alienation, ghost-like apparitions of rave culture and the like. Bevan’s last release, early 2012’s gripping Kindred EP, seemed to distil the previous seven years of releases into one double-sided piece of vinyl whilst moving the ‘Burial Sound’ onto new, somewhat ‘untraditional’ territories.

Not to say that Burial as an artist is any less striking than those first two EPs back in 2005/6, more that his now much-imitated yet never bettered production style has changed the face of modern UK dance music so much so, that those once fractured motifs and complete rejection of the standard rules of composition are now very much the norm. With the Truant release, his tenth on Kode9’s Hyperdub imprint, Burial delivers two tracks of exploratory rhythmic work that combined, make for over twenty five minutes of listening.

Swathed, as ever, in radio crackle, white noise and vinyl pops, the title track slowly winds us into a slow motion garage rhythm, backed with architectural bass stabs overlaid with a treated and repeatedly broken vocal sample (“I fell in love with you / because you are the one”) that’s nothing short of heart-breaking. Amongst the layers, Bevan cracks the track right open with bracing moments of silence, a trick used ever since his early productions, but never in such a startling and effective way than here, seemingly giving listeners time to cleanse the palette before slowly being drawn back into the winding, aerial melody.

Classic rave culture has always been at the very centre of Burial’s music; essentially sound tracking the past twenty years of UK sound system semantics. Around Truant‘s mid-point, the mixture of stepping kicks and two tone bass hits break from the warm melodics to slump into a creeping ’04-era dubstep rhythm, the like of which only Burial can really create – one of his finest tricks, and done to perfection here – before creeping waves of synths make up a stuttering Hardcore melody gifted from the hands of Rob Playford himself.

Rough Sleeper has the same extended sense of exploration, all mournful lead organs and muffled 4×4 kick drums, yet is arguably the stronger track on offer. A down-spiralling bassline harks back to its creators Jungle education, clipped pockets of respite sit snug amongst the marauding atmospherics, whilst a gorgeously dutty brass sample (something rare yet beautiful in Bevan’s work, as on the Warrior Dubz-era Versus track) echoes amongst the depths of bass and two note bells lifted straight from his debut long player.

This isn’t to say that Rough Sleeper is simply an extended rehash of past Burial motifs, far from it, as at the mid-way point we’re launched into a drawn out, smoked-out experiment in shuffling euphoria, as typically emotive vocal excerpts “stay / be strong” are entwined around peals of treated chimes that together makes for one of his most convincing emotional climaxes to date.

Though both tracks descend into more grimey, club-focussed snippets of seemingly unfinished beats and rhythms – the title track essentially acting as a teaser of the presumably huge amount of unreleased material Bevan must be sitting on – it’s the enrapturing moments when it all comes together that are the focus of this lengthy release. As Burial continues with the expansion of his sound, each solo release seems to roll into one highly-layered and coherent whole, which is presumably the point. Whether a third album ever appears remains to be seen, but with releases as varied and immersive as these, fans should be in no hurry.

Louis Cook

Truant is out now via Hyperdub Recordings.