Burial – ‘Rival Dealer’ EP (Hyperdub)

It seems in the 12 months since Burial’s last release, the Hyperdub star and musical recluse has been busy. With another expertly timed annual transmission dropping on primary label Hyperdub, the internet has erupted into varying degrees of fan-mania, hearsay and speculation, once again proving that aside from Aphex Twin, no other solo artist working in electronic music works up quite so much passion within their listeners. Though to be fair, this is the most aligned piece of work Will Bevan has produced since 2007’s breaking album ‘Untrue’.

Title track ‘Rival Dealer’ is without doubt an instant classic within the Burial canon, coming across as a 10 minute brooding ode to individuality across three movements. Stepping ’92 rave rhythms slip and slide underneath a bleached and treated bassline and harrowing Egyptian horns recalling Photek’s ‘Age of Empires’, whilst around the 5 minute mark things are switched up into a ruff, cut and shaped techno template complete with heavily damaged reece bassline, download alert tones and an all too brief Raekwon sample. The whole thing is seen off with a final ambient section echoing the emotive loops found in ‘Forgive’ (lifted from near-masterpiece debut album ‘Burial’), yet bulked up to create a huge sounding, expansive noise – all the ingredients are here, and Burial has never sounded quite so much himself.

As if to throw people off course, the following ‘Hiders’ could be read as a bid for Christmas Number One, Burial-style. Cheap keyboard chords are layered with moaning vocal refrains and a brief burst of eighties synth-pop drums that comes across as one part DJ Shadow’s ‘Blood On the Motorway’ to two parts Brookside theme tune. It’s the
cheesiest thing Burial’s created by a mile, yet it works, and makes for an affecting potential chart hit.

The closing 13 minutes of ‘Come Down To Us’ will again surprise and offend Burial fanatics with its slo-mo hip-hop leanings, creating a palette of sound that mixes both a low rolling, DIY drum track with jangling oriental keys and a synthesised nod to Jean Michel Jarre. Burial’s cut and paste vocal pitching comes into play here more so than ever, with a host of sampled r’n’b, pop and spoken word voices that culminates in a strange crescendo of dark and light, sounding something like a soundtrack to a dystopian version of The Lion King played out across a Croydon estate.

There is without doubt a theme running throughout the voices heard within ‘Rival Dealer’. “Don’t be afraid”, “this is who I am”, “be who you are” “this is what I’m about”, “don’t be afraid to step into the unknown” are just some of the phrases used time and again across the three tracks on offer, not to mention the closing words of Lana Wachowski ruminating on the socially damaging effect that being transgender has afforded his/her community.

Whether this is a potential message from the producer in a sense of questioned sexuality or a personal alignment to Wachowski’s cause is not for this writer to say, though the release as a whole seems more a meditation on universality, courage and individuality rather than an acknowledgement of sorts from an artist that has little or no need to express his own personality to a greater audience.

If anything, much like all of Burial’s work to date, ‘Rival Dealer’ is rooted in the power of music to transport the listener, redefining their physical or mental state and creating worlds within worlds – a common theme throughout the duration of Bevan’s career, and one that he has referenced in almost every interview he’s committed too (all five of them). As Wachowski says “this world that we imagine in this room, might be used to gain access to other rooms, to other worlds, previously unimaginable” – ask anyone who’s had an MDMA-soaked evening in a quality club environment and they might just say the same.

Louis Cook

‘Rival Dealer’ is available now via Hyperdub.

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