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White Noise: Burial – Kindred

Friday, 17 February 2012

Burial – Kindred

Label: Hyperdub



Ashtray Wasp

UK producer Burial is as close as you get to Dance royalty, and I have to admit I wasn’t relishing the task of attempting to articulate my thoughts on his new release. Since he put out Untrue in 2006, an album that is almost unanimously considered the definitive (not-quite) dance album of the last ten years, all has been fairly quiet on the release front. Along with a few collaborations there was last year’s Street Halo EP, a gorgeous collection of quintessential Burial tracks that admittedly didn’t stray too far from his established sound. With Kindred, Burial is finally moving forward, into unknown and innovative territories; and the outcome could hardly be more dazzling.

In order to examine just why Kindred is so brilliant, it’s probably worth investigating just what makes Burial such a special producer in his field. Up until now he has produced gloomy tracks with broken Garage beats, dark ambient stretches and lost, ethereal vocals; and although these traits sounded new at the time, we now live in an world of electronic music saturated by these elements. So why, when Kindred was released digitally, did the Hyperdub servers slow to a crawl trying to keep up with people buying the new release? Why has he, resistant to press and until a few years back anonymous, brought about the most intense intellectual and academic scrutiny of any electronic producer in recent times? Why do your friends who mainly listen to Indie and Rock still love Burial?

These aren’t questions that have any definitive answer, but there are clearly certain characteristics of his music that are unparalleled in today’s Electronic scene. First and foremost is his rare ability to elicit emotional response through his music. As his hard beats drive on they shed a ghostly sense of melancholy and loss; through percussion stripped of its warmth, minor chords, shadowy ambient textures and vocals that cry out into the void; singular shreds of humanity in hopeless and barren soundscapes. It’s worth concentrating on these vocals because Burial refuses to impose any clear emotion upon the listener, pitching male ambiguously to female and vice versa, leaving his voices dislocated for the listener to forge their own associations and emotional connections.

It’s also important to consider those who say Burial mourns for Dance music’s past, constructing a sonic graveyard for the ghosts of Jungle, Rave and Garage. Anyone who has lived through these movements will feel a sharp twang when they hear these familiar elements re-evoked in his mournful sounds. Then there is the extraordinary sense of space created by his music; Burial places you in the middle of a deep soundfield and lets his samples travel around you, so instead of a vocal line pasted on top of beats there is the sense of a contingent world inside his music; just as snips of conversations and other songs drift by, so do his spare beats and ambient crackles. This is emphasised by the amount of the real world that Burial allows to encroach upon his musical space, not only human voice but field recordings such as the thunderstorm here in title track Kindred, or the sound of a clicking Zippo constituting a 2step beat. The sense of grief combined with the constant references to people, society, and London to a great extent make his music seem not only an elegy for Dance music past but also for the society we live in, before it’s even gone.

Since all of these ideas characterised Burial’s earlier releases, particularly Untrue, it’s worth pointing out exactly what makes Kindred so different. The most immediate innovation is the length of these tracks, with two nearing twelve minutes and the other just over seven; allowing these worlds to be bigger, more evocative and epic but still shockingly intimate. This is helped by the mixtape quality in these tunes: tempo, key, beats, samples and synths are all subject to change throughout each of these tracks, allowing each cut to cast its own spellbinding narrative upon the listener.

First cut Kindred is a gentle breaking-in for listeners from Burial’s earlier material, demonstrating the only real return of his fractured Garage beats. A beatless introduction of decayed, sweeping synths is blustered away by a wash of bristling static, before that familiar metallic percussion makes its mark. But even that most classic of Burial traits is subject to deterioration here, the static suffocating it and preventing it from establishing a groove early in the track. Eventually a sweet-sounding vocal manages to emerge from the darkness, lent an unusually epic quality by the one-note vocal cry that echoes off into the distance. Not far in it all grinds to an unexpected halt, the static returning to duel with those evocative vocal lines and giving the first sign of the shifting, suite-like quality of these tracks. The change comes over more dramatically in the last three minutes of the track with the introduction of ghostly synths and a slackening beat. Suddenly all the noise drops away, only that static remaining before a different beat, slower and more subdued, emerges with its own vocals in tow. It’s a beautifully restrained close to such a ferocious track, and a sign of the new exciting things to come over the EP’s next twenty minutes.

If Kindred was meant to ease you in, second cut Loner shows Burial treading confidently to new ground. After a typically sci-fi vocal flourish a canned drum pattern emerges, with drawn ambient synths introducing a surprisingly bright synth arpeggio that forms the centrepiece of the tune, although admittedly even this lightest of elements feels somewhat decayed and suffocated. The vocals here are less discernible, occasionally timestretched to the point where they no longer sound human and merely exist as sonic elements. This track is tighter and more focussed than its siblings, with tight beats and other percussive accents anchoring you to those growling synth textures that lie beneath. Slight details are added and taken away with a precise fluidity, giving the sense of an enormity of sound layered densely on top of itself, of a sound too deep and textured to ever fully explore. Burial again pulls of a stunning shift at the end, this time reminiscent of Untrue’s Shell of Light, as a soulful vocal line cries into a beatless darkness, drawing out evocative synths before being consumed by a mechanical click and that same blistering static wind.

As these first two tracks introduced a new style and direction, final tune Ashtray Wasp shows Burial taking these ideas as far as he possibly can, and somehow he comes up with an even bigger and more beautiful song than its predecessors, easily ranking among the producer’s finest work. This is truly a song of two halves, the first opening with an ambient wash and those familiar human touches, the beat being introduced just after a field sample of someone hanging up the phone, ‘Alright, bye.’ Another strong House beat is established, with mechanical syncopation laying a path for a rising synthline that creates both stability and a sense of unease. This track is so full of sonic accents that it is easy to get lost in the details, in faceless voices that sound out only once and that ambiguous chanted refrain ‘I want you’, which shifts later into ‘I used to belong to you’. The percussion is added to by a deep pulsing 4/4 and serrated synths before the tune reconstructs itself, layer by layer, to its former sound before that too is stripped away to nothingness. Near the eight-minute mark a slower percussive click is introduced with twinkling synths and a high-pitched vocal line that shines out like a beacon of loss, powerfully once more submerged in the carnivorous static before emerging into a melody that shows Burial at his most nakedly beautiful. A simple four-note synth melody compliments clinking effects and a choppy vocal line which is surely the most catchy of the lot, a rare moment of sweetness and compassion in this vast darkness that is nevertheless decayed and assaulted by white noise, which finally reclaims all sounds and the record returns to where it came from.

This technique that Burial uses throughout Kindred of waves of static cannibalising his own sounds, ultimately destroying brief flashes of hope, provides some of the most emotive moments of the record but is also symbolic of Burial’s success here on a wider plane. This white noise is not evil or necessarily dark but it is faceless and unforgiving, and for a producer to subject their own sounds to this treatment is evidence of both a high degree confidence in innovation but also a comprehensive view of how a track will come together even while it's under construction. In Kindred, Burial has produced his most forward-thinking and powerful record since Untrue, proving that while trends in dance music may ebb and flow, his changing style will always be relevant. I hesitate to give a perfect score to a collection of only three tracks but this feels so much more than an EP to me, usually marked out as precursors to albums or generic dancefloor fodder. Across these thirty minutes I cannot find a single flaw, and surely perfect scores exist to be given out once in a while. Here Burial has somehow achieved new heights, and all I can do is advise you to buy Kindred and listen to it, again and again.


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At 17 February 2012 at 23:05 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great review of a beautiful release. This is truly deserving of a 10.

At 24 February 2012 at 18:48 , Blogger Andrewwwww said...



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