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Artist: Burial

Album: Burial

Label: Hyperdub

Review date: Aug. 8, 2006


There's been a lot of talk of the Burial album being something of a next step in dubstep, and for good reason it is the first full-length release on Hyperdub, dark grime king Kode9's label. But if this album had simply dropped from the sky, I doubt that this talk would be so pronounced. To me, Burial sounds much more like an evolution of what became known as trip hop in the mid-'90s. Not to say that dubstep hasn't had a heavy hand in the formation of this album Burial himself has talked about his time spent listening to Rinse FM, London's pirate radio station that has become an epicenter of dubstep; and tracks like "Wounder" and "Southern Comfort," with their bouncy rhythms and creeping synth stabs, certainly will be mixed into countless grime DJ sets. But thinking about the rhythms outside of a dubstep context quickly brings the subtle rhythmic compositions of Mezzanine-era Massive Attack to mind; Tricky's fantastic 1995 album Maxinquaye is never too far away either.

The thing that really distances this album from dubstep's sonic crack is the way Burial takes the mood out of the background and places it front and center. While El-B and some of the Tempa label roster have done some of the pioneering work of lending dubstep an almost tropically atmospheric sound, Burial has succeeded in casting a unique shadow over the music, so thick that it becomes the predominant force of the album.

This industrial haze came to be as a technical by-product. Frustrated in his attempts to emulate the clean and exacting style of producers like Photek, Digital and MJ Cole, Burial decided the best way to construct drums with the little experience he had was to simply layer noise over most of them, disguising the lack of processing equipment he worked with. Instead of breaks that sound like they were sent through a sponge on the way to the speakers, we hear the smooth crackle of noise from the radio, which cements the beats together fantastically. In another case of inexperience turned into subtle enhancement, the drums on Burial aren't sequenced in a traditional sense they're simply laid out in a wave editor side by side resulting in slight timing inconsistencies that make the listen even more worthwhile. Comparisons to characteristically crackly players like Pole and Basic Channel abound, but Burial, a self-described jungle freak, didn't come at it from that angle. It's quite a nice surprise to know that he came to this sound as a product of his own necessity.

The best by-products of Burial's combination of inexperience and good taste are the big, open spaces almost like he couldn't stomach the testosterone of hard dubstep. The short vocal and instrumental samples dropped effortlessly into the mix (hear "Gutted" and "Broken Home" for particularly beautiful treatments) spruce up these sci-fi deserts and add a surprising emotional appeal, one rarely associated with dubstep. Burial uses this trick selectively, and along with the stripped-down drums, it makes for a ghostly, almost meditative moodiness.

The presentation of the record is also key to it finding new ears it is, of course, an album, which is something of a strange concept in Burial's little corner of world, populated almost entirely by 12" singles meant for DJs. The only other dubstep-associated release that I can compare to Burial is the Vex'd full-length De Generate, but Burial feels significantly more coherent and unique.

So, as has happened with scores of creative movements, it might be the rookie creator that brings the widest lens on his particular genre. Burial has spilled the contents of dubstep into something far more accessible and unique. His influences better step it up.

By Trent Wolbe

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