- Burial's most ambient record yet might blow your mind or just test your patience.
- It's become something of a tradition for Burial to release a new record in the winter months and then disappear. His latest, Antidawn, is a collection of spectral, wintery ambient sound collages—the culmination of all of his cinematic and beatless experimentation over the past decade. It's cut from the same cloth as the ambient moments on tracks like "Rival Dealer," "Beachfires" or his "Deep Summer" remix. It's also the biggest departure yet from the all-powerful Untrue. With Untrue Burial perfected a noir-garage formula he could've spent the next 30 years milking, becoming a dance floor DJ or appeasing all of his die-hard fans. Instead, his increasingly frequent forays into these strange, alien soundscapes are the work of a singular artist who consistently refuses to be painted into a corner by anyone else's expectations.
Where Untrue was urban London in every sense of the place, Antidawn imagines a less familiar place, somewhere rural and dark, with no light pollution. The striking, vaguely ritualistic imagery of the artwork sets a strong tone, with the hooded protagonist bringing to mind a barren, glacial landscape (at least to me). Antidawn catalogues the lulls and nervous silences that come with encountering uncharted territory, whether that's new terrain, self-discovery or both. There's a quiet desolation in lines like, "Nowhere to go, walking through the streets," alluding to a self-awareness behind what might otherwise be perceived as a lack of direction on the sprawling record. Tracks meander and twitch until the slightest hint of narrative appears, as if the protagonist is traversing unfamiliar terrain in search of a lost love. Structure feels like an afterthought, with sounds instead waxing and waning like the cycles of the moon.
Thematically, Antidawn isn't as cold as it seems at first. Burial's samples have historically leaned towards more emotive territory, and here each vocal sample demonstrates a Bon Iver level of yearning and sentimentality. Take the warbled phrases on "Strange Neighborhood" for example, which emit a warmth that temporarily thaws their icier surroundings: "My love, my love, Somewhere up there forever / My love, I'll be there when night falls." Memories of romance are roused from the past and then, just as suddenly, cast back into the ether. Fragments of balladry whizz past like the hook of a song you can't quite completely remember, while the percussion thuds like you're hearing it from the other side of a wall. It all feels like what Burial once dubbed the "memory of a tune."
The clanging chimes, funereal organs and breathy synths on "Strange Neighbourhood" evoke survival horror video games with a supernatural twist. Like some post-apocalyptic city where broken, abandoned jukeboxes crank out old songs, "Shadow Paradise" samples harmonium from a Jeff Buckley song, and "New Love" lifts Ocarina Of Time's Water Temple theme. It all ebbs and flows beautifully, with the brooding and nocturnal moments interrupted by glistening bursts of unvarnished melody—creating a push and pull effect that only enhances Burial's fantastical world-building.
Antidawn is essentially Burial's ambient record. Any percussive elements are intricate, buried deep in the mix, underneath processed field recordings. Despite this notable lack of momentum, the EP's approach still falls in line with Burial's preferred style, which he acknowledged in a 2012 interview with the late Mark Fisher: "[My drums are] like a fishbone, rigged up to be kind of skitty, sharp." When these razor-edged sounds appear, accompanied by some ethereal pads or a fleeting vocal sample, they only add to the immersive effect, like we're battling the elements in some wintery woodland. Still, it can feel frustrating when an interesting melodic idea or motif is cut short, interrupted by Burial's now-standard vinyl crackle. No one can deny how technically impressive each song is, but they can be too expansive and loose-fitting at times.
In a 2012 interview with FACT, he explained this emerging sensibility: "I can make eerie tunes… quiet and rolled-out, with the elements out of reach." The ephemeral nature of Antidawn's most beautiful elements will either leave you feeling like there's nothing to hold onto, or they'll keep you on the edge of your seat. The sound of vinyl crackle could become the crackle of burning wood, a source of warmth in some deep, dark forest, depending on the level of immersion the EP manages to rouse in you. Or just a tired cliché. Regardless of what side of the fence you're, rest assured that you won't hear anything else like Antidawn this year.
01. Strange Neighbourhood
03. Shadow Paradise
04. New Love
05. Upstairs Flat