Album Review: Burial – Truant / Rough Sleeper

[Hyperdub; 2012]

Truant / Rough Sleeper was announced basically as it was coming out ten months after Burial’s Kindred EP. The album length followup to William Bevan’s 2007 masterwork, Untrue, still feels as far off as it did before 2011’s Street Halo. Instead, with Truant / Rough Sleeper and the two releases preceding it we’re witnessing the reclusive London producer’s rapid evolution away from the basic groundwork he laid with his first two LPs pretty much in realtime. Kindred and now Truant / Rough Sleeper are wildly experimental and it feels a little like Bevan is inviting us along as he forges his way down this new path, constantly searching and feeling out new idea after new idea.

Truant / Rough Sleeper continues the vignetted structuring Burial explored on Kindred, particularly the latter EP’s third track, “Ashtray Wasp,” but both the tracks on the new release edge even further away from the Burial seen as late as Street Halo. The Londoner’s garage aesthetics are further abstracted into 11-minute-plus techno molds and that consistant and infamous Burial-esque negative space continues to close up. Bevan’s sense of the liquid textural patchwork and fractured constant-left-turn style is further fleshed out given to a more holistic approach and much of the maximalist inclinations from the last two EPs are curbed in favor of something more compact and deft and aware of its track lengths.

Kindred often felt like it had more ideas than it knew what to do with, using its warped and fractured sense of structure to somehow link all the disparate threads together, ultimately to the EP’s benefit. But with Truant / Rough Sleeper, Burial takes to the format with a little more foresight and grace. The result still manages to contextualize the individual passages within a larger more undefined landscape, but with some added patient confidence there’s a depth to the two cuts here that give them a heft beyond the novelty of their weirdo leanings. Something Kindred perhaps made up for with brashness and earnestness.

“Truant” locks around some smeared keys and a simple downbeat 4/4 before the melody drops out leaving the “I fell in love with you” vocal sample out in the cold, naked and lonely. The edges of the track are littered with tinkling chimes and a distant woody percussive loop, a far off darkened cirrus cloud synth spreading high above. The track’s center stretch flutters with a sweeping percussion loop and a swampy, bobbing low end, the squelch of vocals ricocheting off an occasional snare, while distant keys run down the track’s sides like streaks of rain. The track’s last two minutes are an odd revolving door of sounds, cutting from some heaving, barren dubstep to chip-toothed jungle, even momentarily stopping at something befitting a 2006 Burial, like someone indecisively messing with a radio knob. Bevan is nothing if not a master at capturing hyper-specific moods tied to a particular place and time, specifically on older tracks like “Night Bus” and “In McDonalds.” Here, the scope is such that it feels like Burial is exploring an entire night out, wandering past open, glittering shop fronts, sticking to the shadowy puddles, and weaving through an ever changing aural and emotional landscape.

“Rough Sleeper” is a little more dramatic, centering around a gorgeous organ melody, a bed of warped vocals, and a lithe 4/4 before jumping over to a beautiful upward climbing centerpiece, its downey synths laced with corduroy vocals. The track ultimately ends up in a scratchy, rattling heap before its unceremoniously cut off. While Kindred and Truant / Rough Sleeper lack the weight and all-at-once punch of Burial’s LPs, the London producer is currently on a run carving out territory almost as singular and exciting as the material on his landmark releases. Sure, the release schedule is a little episodic, but Bevan is in the midst of something truly exciting. Truant / Rough Sleeper is yet another confirmation of Bevan’s status as one of the most–if not the most–forward-thinking producers working.