- 2006 was the year that dubstep finally broke and Burial’s eponymous debut rightly rode the crest of the wave. Now the reclusive south London producer returns with his follow up album, Untrue, which lays another strong claim to Burial being the most innovative and expressive artist not only in dubstep, but in the whole of electronic music.
Untrue works the same template as Burial, built around ghostly spoken samples, two-step shuffles and downbeat ambient interludes. It’s not a huge step forward sonically then, but it’s definitely more luxurious: The pace is slightly sped up, while the percussive snares and rattles ring out with greater force and clarity. Gone are the pirate radio crackles and hisses, and in their place is a smoother, more beautiful ambience.
Burial’s new trick, however, is his treatment of vocals. The drowning voices of his debut are rescued and brought to the fore – indeed, the verging-on-beatless middle section relies almost solely on vocals and swooning, sad ambient waves to cast its spell. Hyperdub label boss Kode 9 has described this vocal sound as “weird soul”, while Burial himself, in one of his rare interviews, has described them as “angelic and haunting”, hence the supernatural titles like ‘Archangel’ and ‘Ghost Hardware’. But if these are ghosts, they’re androgynous ones: Male voices speed up and female voices slow down to change gender mid-word, most strikingly on ‘Etched Headplate’ or on the title track where the voices tremble with Elvis-like anxiety. The effect, however, is less about gender-bending than a memory: these are the ghosts of the ‘real’ sped up vocals of the first hardcore generation. The closing track ‘Raver’ in particular longs for that lost era, much more convincingly and wistfully than any NME sponsored revival.
The only criticism I can make is that ´Untrue´ is somewhat homogenous in emotional range. Possibly this is a product of its scope: where Burial’s debut was personal and local, evoking a cloistered sound world of rainy and worn down south London boroughs and night buses, Untrue feels more national – a wider world of giant road networks, industrial cables and cloudy flight paths. Many of the vocal samples are deliberately made in the UK this time, not in the USA as on Burial – one track here is even bluntly named ‘UK’ to prove the point. It’s a wider canvas, sure, but it’s slightly less intimate and emotional, too, even if the sense of beautiful sadness is still profound.
Untrue is therefore a new kind of folk music, for Britain and beyond. And like the British weather, it’s all about hoping to catch the moments between the grey clouds, not expecting an unending run of sun. When you listen, you can really feel it on your skin, even if it passes in a moment.
03 Near Dark
04 Ghost Hardware
06 Etched Headplate
07 In McDonalds
09 Shell Of Light
10 Dog Shelter