Thursday, 12 December 2013

Rival Dealer - Review

Since the (then anonymous) William Bevan released his debut self-titled album in 2006, he has acquired a hugely devoted, yet specifically 'underground' following. This is not to label them as insufferable hipsters; Burial's music could hardly be enjoyed in any other way.

There was always a specific, fairly limited archetype of what the 'Burial sound' was; the trademark vinyl crackling, the distorted, wailing vocal samples and the scratching garage beats all defining features of his music. In the context of a dark, minor key, all these work to create the atmospheric music that quickly became a soundtrack to the bleak landscape of a deprived, street level London. The characteristic style of Burial's music necessitated its place in underground music - dubstep for the neglected, the alienated.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this distinctive, personal style is a bad thing. He did it beautifully and it worked, but there comes a time when a sound so specific becomes limiting if it doesn't evolve. Burial needed to push it further, and that's exactly what he's done with his new EP, Rival Dealer. In my review of Truant/Rough Sleeper I was excited by Burial's move into the realm of the major key. Hopeful? Uplifting? It's a breakthrough!

After having listened to Rival Dealer, that suddenly doesn't seem quite so radical. Almost the entirety of the album seems to adopt a similarly optimistic tone. At the beginning of 'Hiders', the piano chords make it sound like Will Young's backing track for his Pop Idol finale. Likewise, the sparse, 90's beat, joyful string chords and what sounds suspiciously like Christmas bells at the end of 'Come Down To Us' make it sound like something that could have been written by Band Aid. The whole thing is sway-clap cheesy... DEFINITELY not something we'd expect from Burial. Perhaps this shows not just a change of heart but a parody of the commercial, Christmas anthems churned out at this time of year, or a reflection of how distant the reality of life is from the merry, festive atmosphere sold by a society that has redefined the season for the gain of financial profit. 

Then again, this interpretation could be far too cynical. Another novel feature of the music is the untampered vocal samples that Burial has brought to the forefront of the texture. He seems to be piecing together a message that might reveal the thinking behind the tone of the EP. He echoes an experience of 'trying to find yourself', stepping 'into the unknown', the struggle to be unafraid. Perhaps the implication is spiritual, a short monologue at the end of 'Rival Dealers' speaking about looking up at the breath-taking stars and constellations and voicing the first of many appeals of 'come down to us'. 

His final sample of transgender film-maker Lana Wachowski leaves no doubt that although the EP marks a change of direction for Burial, he still continues to give a voice to (and use the voices of) those undervalued and abused by society. The difference is, this time there's hope. Whatever the reason for this transformation of the 'Burial sound', the result is an exciting, interesting and overall magnificent half an hour of gorgeousness. I'm already thirsty for more.