It’s hard to overemphasise the influence Burial has had on British electronic music. His seminal 2007 album ‘Untrue’ was submerged in ghostly, distorted vocal samples and vinyl crackle; was somehow both chilling and comforting, laid-back and danceable, futuristic and wistfully nostalgic. That album’s legend has grown over the years, helped by Burial’s quiet elusiveness, and by the fact he’s never released a third full-length album.
Instead, we’ve seen a number of elliptical singles and EPs in shifting styles – many of which were collected on the excellent ‘Tunes 2011–2019’ – and the final mix in the Fabriclive series, with Kode9. And now, Burial is kicking off 2022 with a new EP on his long-time label Hyperdub: it’s called ‘Antidawn’, and given its 43½-minute runtime it’s tempting to ask why Burial didn’t just call it a studio album and have done with it.
A possible answer is that ‘Antidawn’ is nothing like the third album fans expect from Burial – his only release that comes close to sounding like this is ‘Dolphinz’, the utterly weird B-side to last year’s single ‘Chemz’. Gone are the limping, door-latch beats that defined ‘Untrue’. Gone, too, is any semblance of traditional song structures. Instead, Burial’s trademark vinyl crackles and distorted vocal samples are the raw materials for a loose, amorphous soundscape, at once confusing and fascinating.
The record begins with someone clearing their throat, as though testing a microphone. There are sounds of wind and insects. “You came around my way”, sings a characteristically spectre-like voice. There’s an organ. Nothing fits together. Then the organ begins again – warmer, more cohesive this time – the vocal sample replays, and you think: ah, there’s a song here. But just as the track starts to gain momentum, Burial snatches it back, leaving us with nothing but quiet noise.
The effect is hugely disorientating, and it’s used again and again throughout ‘Antidawn’, teasing the listener with vignettes as though Burial were switching between different fragments of half-composed music. Many of these fragments sound like they ought to be recognisable, even if they’re not. (I’m 80% confident that ‘SHADOW PARADISE’ takes its intro from Jeff Buckley’s 'Lover, You Should Have Come Over', ridiculous as that sounds.) The only track that bears anything resembling a beat is ‘NEW LOVE’, and it’s more of a loose shaker/hi-hat rhythm that appears, vanishes, and then reappears.
I’ve actually never heard anything that sounds quite like this – it shares some kinship with the music of Juliana Barwick or labelmate Laurel Halo, but it’s more resistant to form, and it’s still clearly Burial. Perhaps the KLF’s ‘Chill Out’ is the best point of departure: that album, too, used montage as a way to convey a sense of movement, not only through space (“all the way down the East Coast”) but through time. And like ‘Chill Out’, ‘Antidawn’ takes cues from the musique concrète of 20th-century avant-garde music, piecing together functional, everyday sounds – the strike of a lighter, coughs and muffled voices, metallic clangs – to create something totally otherworldly. It’s human, but in a way that alienates rather than comforts, using processed, wounded-sounding samples to give the sense of journeying through an unfamiliar neighbourhood. (“I’m in a bad place”, one voice frets on the title track).
This is delicate, complex music that demands relistening. It’s certainly frustrating at first, especially if you’re expecting another dubstep masterpiece. But it grows on you given openness and attention – the kind of attention that Burial has earned through years of consistent brilliance. Love it or hate it, ‘Antidawn’ is one of the most unique releases you’re likely to hear in 2022.
Words: Tom Kingsley
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