Album Review: Burial – Kindred EP

[Hyperdub; 2012]

Almost anything written about producer William Bevan aka Burial has the potential to turn quickly into naval-gazing drivel in its attempt to personify the Londoner’s place in modern music. Not just electronic music or the corpse of dubstep, but the whole shebang. It’s a tale full of contradictions, half-measures, and hushed voices starting with an auspicious scene-defining debut, followed by a breathtaking scene-destroying sophomore record, and then four years of a rumor here and a track there. By the time the 3-track Street Halo EP arrived early last year, the waves Untrue had made in 2007 had traveled far enough from their source, becoming some sort of monolithic force of nature that Burial’s initial splash felt almost irrelevant. He’s perhaps the most ubiquitous shorthand in 2012, yet remains a ghost. His chosen anonymity has been ridden out to the point that subsequent releases feel birthed from a perpetual dream world Bevan inhabits like some formless, Gibson-ian being of pure consciousness. Or something.

Of course at the prospect of Street Halo there was still the inadvertent expectation of the EP to contain some subtextual, indirect comment on Burial’s place in ‘post-dubstep’, bass, indie, music, the universe, etc four years after his initial masterpiece. The hope being it would sound like Burial past being mythologized (as I’ve done above), transcending the Burial of Untrue and all its influence. Street Halo was more of a sidestep. And a great one at that. It sounded like Burial with some growth. We got the 4/4-driven title track and “NYC” – arguably Burial at his most beautiful and lonely in a career defined by moments of beauty and loneliness. Burial was still a revelation in a world chasing after him even if he was as recognizable as ever. It’s a joy then that Kindred, Bevan’s newest 3-track venture, sounds like the post-everything Burial we’ve been waiting for.

Kindred is still very much Burial, but it’s as if Bevan’s whole world view has been skewed. The EP is a little daunting at first. Two of its tracks breach eleven-minutes and the whole thing clocks in a little over thirty. Street Halo‘s tracks were noticeably longer than anything found on Burial or Untrue, but they still clung to a familiar structure, riding on grimey synth melodies and deploying vocal samples in exultant bursts around a vast negative space. Kindred‘s tracks feel like compacted suites and full songs are never really bothered to settle around one melodic centerpiece or pattern. The title track stops and starts significantly maybe three times, exchanging one foundational melody for another. Vocal samples roll in like slowly-layered rainclouds, frothing into roiling crescendos before slowly drifting apart again. Kindred seems eternally unsatisfied, but somehow it works to the EP’s benefit. The approach feels like a stream of intricate ideas molded on impulse until a brief flash of beauty and significance manages to peak out before it’s gone just as rapidly.

Bevan isn’t afraid to fill the negative space that’s been as much of a textural staple of his as the chain-rattle 2-step and runny R&B cries of urban isolation. Kindred packs a heft and fury that’s often been staved off in favor of a resounding expanse. “Kindred,” with its caffeinated synth stabs, or “Loner” with its breakneck formaldehyde arpeggios, crushes any space otherwise filled by listener imagination and instead throttles the track with a full-bodied earnestly. It also helps that the BPM count has skyrocketed. In any case, the emotional color is altered a bit. There’s still a downer feeling of loneliness offered by the vocals, but it’s all so unrestrained that instead of repressed cries of longing and lonesome strolls through alleyways dripping with starlight we get fervent wanderings through desperate dreams thick with unending layers of stormy REM sleep. “Loner” gets the best of it with its hurried 4/4 gate. By its middle the track is simply exploding with combative intensity. It’s not really a description classically befitting of Burial.

“Ashtray Wasp” best exemplifies Burial’s new long-con approach. It’s the type of track that takes you to more places and packs more ideas and emotional variations in eleven-minutes than most can manage in an album. Just as its smeared sing-song arpeggios coalesce into a heavenly mad-dash things settle and change direction, looping in and out of a previous phrase before tangling with another motif and heading toward the sky again. Never mind it’s essentially three songs in one. It’s as much of a technical, puzzle-piece spider-web as it is an emotionally exhausting workout. In less than twelve minutes Burial disassembles his persona – vindicating all his disparate elements by laying them out flat for you stare at –  and reconstructs it again in a wholly different sequence all while you listen to it happen. Until it dies in a heap of vinyl static and decaying voices. “Ashtray Wasp” is indicative of the whole EP. Kindred is a record that needs to be consumed thirty-minutes at a time in order to absorb its collage pastels the color of rain puddles. Listening to it is much like trying to hold an oily liquid in your hands – eventually it starts to run through your fingers and down your arm in long streaks. It’s not immediately apparent, but there’s a journey to be had here. Despite its short length, Kindred provides as much of an experience as Untrue. And commendably, it’s a different one.