Dusted Reviews

Burial - Untrue

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Burial

Album: Untrue

Label: Hyperdub

Review date: Nov. 5, 2007

For those not versed in every twist and turn of UK club micro-genres, the ascendancy of Burial’s debut album to the top of end-of-the-year lists in 2006 might have come as a surprise. Upon hearing it, the surprise might have even turned to skepticism, as it did with this reviewer. What exactly was the big deal? The beats were sparse, the melodies sparser, and the much-touted atmospherics felt limpid and, yes, non-existent. How exactly did people dance to this stuff? Sounding as it did, it seemed an excuse for absent head-nodding and vacant chin-scratching. But … one year on, and I’m still listening to Burial, as I’m sure many others are, and still marveling at how the minimal production can sound so full, at how Burial has taken a form very dependent on its live performance setting and created powerful head music out of it.

And now along comes Untrue, Burial’s second full-length in a year. By his own confession, he rushed through its construction, eager to make a “glowing, buzzing album.” First impression backs him up: From the opening tune, “Archangel,” with its flickering human-cum-digital vocalizations so prominent, Untrue is a more personal set than Burial. If Burial’s debut explored a bleak, nighttime London of the imagination, Untrue seems intent on mapping a more intimate geography. It’s about keeping and not keeping secrets, about wanting to remain anonymous in a world where it’s easier than ever to at least fool yourself that you’re being heard. The question, however, lingers: how has Burial’s music – so empty, so cavernous, so shrouded – caught the ears of so many?

For answers, one could turn to this album’s more prominent vocals. On Burial they echoed futilely across the desolate beatscape; on Untrue they resound on nearly every track. They first appear to be laments, typical lovers’ calls, but they repeat and repeat until they start to sound like prayers, eventually galvanizing the weave of rhythmic cells. On “Homeless,” three different vocal tracks play off each other and against a staggering synth jab that foreshadows the dark shift in the middle of the tune.

Such signs of a more complex approach to arranging are everywhere. “Shell of Light” sways on a gentle rhythm. The percussion is submerged, and a deep bass line sketches out a melody against a crackling layer of percussive digital debris. The vocals are folded deep into the background, sometimes emerging as part of the rhythmic structure, until taking center stage in a full-fledged coda. Burial puts all these parts into dialogue with each other, simultaneously making a self-contained song-world and hinting at the endless beat, the one that will lead to the next track in the mix.

Burial still foregrounds the rhythm, but not in a flashy or aggressive way. The bass is not so all-encompassing this time around, while the percussion tracks are still built of minor rhythmic events: small pops and scraps, punctuated by sharp snare hits and woody rim-shots. On “Near Dark,” a busy, jittering beat only highlights the pathos in the vocal refrain of ”I envied you.” For Burial, rhythm is a means to exploring psychological states and for creating mood, not expressing attitude or gunning for the usual ecstatic abandon of the dance floor.

And yet the dance floor is never far from Burial’s heart. The title track alludes to a classic trope of club music: the drifting synth chord. Burial crops it so it hangs in a void, nearly releasing it from the hold of gravity. Later, on the interludes “Endorphin” and “UK,” he brings back the more traditional swell of downy synths moving through a bright chord progression. The effect is transporting, a return to a time when rave culture at least had the illusion of innocence. “UK” segues into “Raver,” the tune that most breaks the dubstep mold here with a minimalist house pulse, an unusually delicate break, and bubbling percussive effects. But for all its rhythmic vibrancy, “Raver” is gentle, hesitant, and vulnerable – all qualities one rarely associates with clubbing sub-cultures.

“Raver” most fully answers the question of what in Burial’s music draws listeners towards it: it is empty, but not in a vacuous way. Its emptiness is inviting, that of the outsider in the club, or on the bus, hovering just in the shadows and taking in the room, the landscape. That emptiness tempts a listener in, and puts you in its place – you, in a sense, step into the record’s point of view. This invitation to intimacy is a powerful move that most club music is simply incapable of. Ironically, dubstep’s most well-known producer is also its most secretive, and his enforced privacy is another element that speaks to many. The narrator on “Archangel” wonders, ”If I trust you…” and then trails off. It’s a testing of the waters, a reaching out: Burial, the ever-present observer, has something to tell us. Untrue is his secret, whispered in public.

By Matthew Wuethrich

Other Reviews of Burial


Read More

View all articles by Matthew Wuethrich

Find out more about Hyperdub

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.