- This compilation of Burial's music in the '10s reflects a unique, enduring talent.
- It's difficult to know what to make of Tunes 2011 To 2019, a compilation that seems to have been created based on a couple of assumptions. One is that there's a group of people out there who would like 17 previously released Burial tracks on CD. The second assumption seems to be that it's a good time for a survey of Will Bevan's work. With Hyperdub currently rounding out its 15th anniversary year and Burial being one of the most visionary artists of recent times, there might be something in this. The running order, sequenced by Bevan himself, isn't too surprising. But his methodology invites us to consider the last nine years of Burial through an evolutionary lens, beginning with the recent ambient epoch. Shorn of drums, Burial's music—in short, an intensely atmospheric rendering of rave's history that became highly influential—took on qualities both dull and sublime. Moments of "State Forest," released earlier this year, and "Beachfires," from 2017, achieved feelings of deep longing in vast, desolate spaces, a natural transposition of the core Burial sound. "Subtemple," however, was a slide into the void, a lifeless sample collage with nothing but meagre textures to cling onto.
"Young Death" and "Nightmarket," released together in 2016, feel in retrospect like bridge tracks between the poppy phase that had preceded them and the ambient explorations to come. It was a pretty 12-inch, assembled with glimmering melodies and honeyed vocals, but one that seemed to slip through your fingers—not quite ambient, not quite pop, nothing of true distinction. This wasn't an issue for 2013's Rival Dealer EP. Its three tracks marked the most radical transformation in Bevan's artistic arc, with Kit Macdonald at the time using words like "almost unbearably romantic," "winter pop song" and "Christmassy" in his review. This unabashedly pop-centered style was delivered episodically, with each extended track cycling through several distinct sections. Some of it worked (the sway in the middle of "Come Down To Us," the gritty beginning of "Rival Dealer"); some of it (the '80s drums on "Hiders") was terrible. But also: wow. The size of the risk Bevan took, perhaps a middle finger to those demanding he make Untrue for the rest of his life, hasn't come to seem any less massive over time.
Bevan's work between 2011 and 2012, appearing here on the second disc, might be thought of as the post-Untrue period: expansions, contractions and reconfigurations of what he'd established on one of the best electronic albums of all time. So yes, there is some incredible music here, and for me it's "Truant" and "Rough Sleeper," released after the also excellent Kindred EP in 2012, that have aged the most impressively. On "Truant," the bass weight and sense of space are at almost King Tubby levels. The manipulated female vocal sample—a simple "I fell in love with you"—sounds like a siren song from the depths of urban ruins. Then there's the fresh approach to the track's arrangement, which continually stops and starts, pauses and sputters, before things culminate in a thrillingly degraded dark garage beat. With the final three tracks, we're right back to 2011, and the classic sense of Burial-style nostalgia is palpable. "Street Halo" and "Stolen Dog" are both quietly, richly anthemic, while "NYC" closes on a fittingly somber, garage-driven note. On first listen, my mind then immediately bounced all the way back to 2006 and Burial's self-titled debut album—what I was doing, how I was feeling, who I was with. Bevan's music will do that to you.
Tunes 2011 To 2019 frames the artistic development of someone whose older music sounds more inspired but is still capable of greatness. The one track I haven't mentioned is "Claustro," nestled near the end of the first disc, which landed this year with style and swagger. There were no tricks or rapid left turns this time—it was simply a vocal-led garage tune executed with panache. You probably already know this, which returns us to the question of the compilation's necessity. As one of the most famous and heavily discussed electronic music artists of the past couple decades, it's hard to make the case that a fresh look at Bevan's Hyperdub catalogue was needed, and the CD thing seems the result of a label keen to seize an opportunity (understandable, given the modern economic climate of releasing music). But perhaps Burial being one of the most famous and heavily discussed electronic music artists of the past couple decades is exactly why Tunes 2011 To 2019 is warranted. 12 years since his last album, we at least get a large chunk of his often incredible catalogue in one place.
01. State Forest
04. Young Death
07. Come Down To us
09. Rival Dealer
03. Ashtray Wasp
04. Rough Sleeper
06. Street Halo
07. Stolen Dog