Burial is perhaps the most celebrated outsider musician of all time, having enjoyed massive successes in both critical reviews and album sales for his previous two releases on the Hyperdub label. Despite his attempts at being a low-key producer who "just want[s] to make some tunes, nothing else," William Bevan can't seem to escape the limelight of the underground. Indeed, Burial may be trying too hard to remain obscure, or conversely, he may be incredibly unfocused in his attempts at "making tunes." Either way, the remarkable brilliance and originality that pulsates underneath the veil of phasers, darkened reverbs, and horrifying vocals serve as a reminder as to just how important it is to allow electronic music to run free under the discretion and terms of the composers themselves. Producers have tried for decades to reach a level of polish and mainstream synergy in their releases, yet few have been able to match the pure emotion and artistic stamina of Burial.
No, this music is not designed for the clubs. The details and ambiences are too overwhelmingly important within the context of the overall tracks on "Street Halo" - Bevan's third original release on Kode 9's Hyperdub boutique bass music label. The music requires focused, attentive listening, and rewards repeated plays. Not only is the depth of the artistic vision here that special, but the entire presentation is far too cohesive to settle for merely a slap on the DJ deck at the next party at Plastic People. Burial's music presents a mystery of sonic revelation that quite parallels the lack of an outwardly-focused image, normally utilized by promoters and producers to drive record sales and elevate public persona. This fact is demonstrable down to the very titles of the tracks. Names like "Stolen Dog" are not at all inviting to the club-goer, no matter how fervently one may wish to move to the broken-yet-sexy 2-step rhythms of this underground electronic music prince. Yet, upon closer examination, it becomes all too obvious that these names hold a significance far greater than the average track title. Hearing the passive, haunting cries of the male and female vocals in the aforementioned track truly reminds one of the feeling of hopelessness that is onset directly after the realization that your beloved pet is out there - starving, terrified, and alone - and you can't do anything about it.
The title track, on the other hand, is far more minimalist in its nature, and seems to focus more on radical changes in sonic color to grab the attention of the listener. The appearance of a street corner can be made so drastically different just by turning on or off the dim, padded street light fixated to the ground it shares with the adjacent sidewalk. Its ghostly bass line breathes energy into the steady, almost nonexistent percussion loop, while the distorted church organ sampling brings the listener in and out of sonic consciousness - as if Burial wants you to be half-awake before the drop, and then started up again like you're driving down the road with a lover in one arm and a crystal meth pipe in the other, craving an existence that only a road to the afterlife could provide. "I will always possess you" a desolate and youthful girl moans as the only hint at a melody rises and suddenly falls, never truly resolving the chord structure. The piece seems like a plead for death with the inability to focus on the light tunnel for long enough - there are too many distractions in Burial's life. He yearns for an existence of simplicity and pleasure, yet these facile ambitions make it that much easier for inner demons and personality conflicts to grab a stronger hold over his persona.
"NYC", the lengthiest track on the release, is a piece of such musical complexity and vocal manipulation that it, more than anything else, serves as a brilliant foreshadow to his releases to come. 'Nobody loves me' a girl cries, almost pathetically, as the most delicate vocal and string pads are lightly placed below her, yet above the drums. A void is clearly presented here, begging the question of what relationship Burial's experiences and understandings of New York City bears to the sweet-yet-somber mood of the track - if any. Keep in mind that so much can be read at the surface if we assume that Mr. Bevan is attempting to draw any emotional or artistic parallels between the title of the piece and its musical qualities. However, knowing his audience can never assume such a thing, Burial's artistic intent is demonstrably more elaborate and variegated than ever before, and it is a strong indication of what is to come from the young, mysterious producer.
Burial is no longer a mere dubstep producer; the emotional impact of his music being enough to separate him from nearly every other well-regarded producer involved in this scene, the gentle man's music itself is now so undeniably thoughtful, and so fantastically apt at painting the picture that his (lack of a) public persona and his disturbing song titles attempt to fabricate, that it would be doing the artist a terrible disservice to put his fine work under the same category as the likes of Skrillex, Nero, and Zed's Dead. Not unlike Bob Dylan, Burial has made a high art out of the composition of some of the most blue collar musical ideas imaginable, allowing listeners of all varieties to circumvent the conventional wisdoms held in the world of electronic music. William Bevan has blessed us with music that is uncompromisingly honest, while forgoing the typical sacrifice of leaving out key elements in the overall presentation of the record. Burial has given us every single piece of the puzzled needed to navigate his bass-heavy persona of fragility and emotional extremity. Bravo, Burial. Bravo.