What I’ve noticed in the last half-decade is a capitalistic ideal that strips some fantastic movements or projects of their luster, especially within modern American art. Take for example, the film industry, with stalwarts who love the idea of “series reboots.” Some work, like Chris Nolans’ “Batman” indeed reset well while others do not, like Marc Webb’s (no pun intended) “Spiderman” disaster. What happens when this phenomenon occurs is a natural gravitation toward the familiar characters, plot lines, symbols and motifs. In the music industry, this phenomenon is exacerbated through a constant barrage of new noise: take an older ideal, like the concept of dub, dubstep, two-step, footwork and garage, and maximize the sound, without regard to the art, to maximize profits through radio play, concert ticket-gouging. What we get is artists like Skrillex, Bassnecter et. al. and what we deserve is artists like Aphex Twin, Four Tet and, as conceptualized below, Burial. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this new Americanized, super-sized scene, but there is another culture that needs not be forgotten.
Since the release of his debut self-titled LP in 2006, Burial (a k a Will Bevan) has constantly distilled and expanded his sound so that while each subsequent release still carries his distinct trademark, the sonic and emotional territory explored in each is vastly different. Over the course of two LPs, a handful of EPs and various satellite singles, Bevan has crafted his project to juxtapose the feelings of universal boredom, sadness, despair and hopelessness. His strict attention to theme and motif has kept this career arc grounded, while his technical mastery has allowed the ideas to grow and shift organically. Burial is the null hypothesis; his musical journey is the standard to which all other musicians looking to push boundaries should strive. A close reading of his discography should help shed some light on the mystique of the man who chose to remain anonymous in the wake of all the pain.
Burial owes much of his inspiration to two-step, footwork, and grime of old, but still manages to leave all pretense behind when crafting his own sound. In an interview with Fact Magazine in 2007, Bevan points specifically to underground tunes like Rufiage Cru’s “Beachdrifta” and Luke Slater’s “Love” as a main source of inspiration. While traces of the former tune are evident on the drum track in both “Archangel” from Untrue and “Distant Lights” from 5: Five Years of Hyperdub, Bevan slows his version of the sound down to fit his very specific mood of loneliness and despair. Burial further deconstructs, compacts, and syncopates while extracting the euphoric bliss in Luke Slater’s “Love” and adding a remnant of the feeling in his song “Near Dark” from Untrue. His constant recall to the music of old, like that of Rufiage Cru and Luke Slater, demands his listener to pay attention to the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between his and their tunes.
Because his music is hyper focused on production detail, the emotional range he covers is quite narrow. His music has evolved subtly but without reducing its purpose, serving as self-reflection. For example, on Burial, both the first and last track is “Untitled.” Both tracks are eerily quiet, attempting to contain the grief within the album. On Untrue, while the first track is “Untitled,” the last track is called “Raver.” The subtle difference is this: “Raver” is not about containing emotion, but letting the emotion drift off into nothingness. The connection between both of these albums, released about a year apart, is a masterstroke. Most artists would attempt an overhaul of the sound to show progress, here emotional and personal growth. The development is in what Bevan does not change–his development is slow (as juxtaposed in the slow-ish BPM) and careful, and most importantly, unsuccessful. All that has changed is a change of scenery.
Perhaps more contextually interesting than the juxtaposition of the two LPs, with a combined bleak and distorted sound, is the juxtaposition of the two EPs, Street Halo and Kindred, released four and five years after Untrue, with a combined sound that is less bleak and more disdainful and angry. Street Halo, with songs between six and eight minutes long, tells the story of a misguided youth, trying to navigate the uncertainty of the after-club glow. Through three tracks, “Street Halo,” “NYC,” and “Stolen Dog,” the progression is less focused on syncopation (a sign of unease) and more on thumping bass in 4/4 time (an attribute of focus, and in this case, anger). Contrastingly on Kindred, songs are between seven and twelve minutes long. This theme is stretched by virtue of song length and by the inclusion of otherworldly, grinding bass.
To arrive back at the original point at the start of this article, Burial’s music is the antithesis to the American dance revolution. There needs to exist a balance between what is good (loud, 160 BPM+ club music) and what is right (softer, more subtle tunes). Burial’s music has carved out a niche right in between, right where Batman and Spiderman exist.
In the same FACT interview in 2007, Burial said, “All I ever wanted to do was make tunes that had rolling, garage-y, junglist drums with subs and cut-up singers and some of that motion-tracker thing! Just give me that and I’m happy [laughs]. It’s quite a simple thing I want to do.”
This is the man who wants to create music to mimic the echo of the club as the partygoers leave; the man who wants us to bask and sulk in the afterglow of a rave and to keep calm, all under the same roof. Rave on, Will.