Burial – Untrue (Hyperdub – 2007)

Dubstep, don’t be scared, it is for you, you’re fine to like it, you don’t have to be ashamed when you say it as a word out loud.  It might be new but as with any music, it can’t be that new, its obvious roots are in dub reggae and 2-step garage, the collapsing of the immense low end dub bass with a 2-step garage beat, in which the bass drum predominantly hits twice in the bar, giving it the ‘two steps’. This jerky beat may be familiar, along with the bass sounds and general atmosphere which owe as much to hip-hop, trip-hop, jungle, house as either dub or 2-step, as with all electronic music, it is first and foremost electronic music. My point is that it is something which you are already familiar with, conditioned too, just in a slightly different form. Like a pie with the gravy and meat on the outside, this is just a new ordering of presentation.

Dubstep also seems to keep company in post-punk, the last great public exploration of dub before trip-hop (I know, ‘trip-hop, what was that about?’), more than a style it was seen as a movement of the times, complimentary themes and  sounds emerging unforced from separate pockets throughout the country, looking like it might finally break the mainstream consciousness. Burial’s nomination with Untrue for the Mercury Prize seemed as if were to be the moment. Aside from his music Burial had piqued interest as his/her/their (at the time, I can now freely refer to him as him) identity had not been revealed to the public. While this had previously been little more than an interesting aside to most, taking at face value any statements that were made by or on behalf of Burial, basically that he made tunes and couldn’t be bothered playing live or doing interviews, photo-shoots or even telling people what he did in his spare time.  This combination secret identity and success seemed annoy then The Sun Showbiz editor Dominic Mohan who was determined to unmask Burial prior to 2007’s Mercury announcement because it was something to do. He seemed to be pressing the question that everybody was not asking. This tabloid incursion mustn’t have sat well, in a bid to quash rumours that he was either Richard D. James or Norman Cook, Burial broke cover like Batman was going to do in the last Batman film before Harvey Dent confessed instead. It turned out he was a real person you’d never heard of in real life who wore a hat for the photo they released.

Burial’s fine (in the way the word used to mean) recent EP Kindred sparked something of a coo-fest from ever online publication with a ‘new releases’ section and rightly so, but Untrue was my first introduction to this sound. I heard one friend brag to another that they’d gotten it a whole three days early from a record shop in Germany, talking with an expressiveness more befitting Paul Gambaccini or some big city lawyer type. I listened to person two’s copy when it arrived in the post the following Monday. Untrue is immersive from the off,  sliding bass frequencies tilt past you as the two step beats spin like the internal mechanisms of an analogue pocket watch.  Vocals samples are pitch shifted and twisted beyond sense, the sense of the city after dark, the night bus home and fragments of conversations have become cliché when talking about Burial, but perhaps it is a cliché born of truth, it is hard not to envisage dim street lights, imposing compact housing and the mechanical monotony of a city transport system when listening to this record. Everything is filtered like it is heard beyond the headphones from the world outside.

The analogue watch workings metaphor seems apt (thanks), the parts seem to spin independently in their own foggy bubble and chime together at points across each track to achieve melody, wheels upon wheels of them, cogs turning round to urge the music forward, seconds tick by with the hi-hat as minutes pass with comforting synthetic bass swoops. The unnerving bustle and stop of the beat is misted by reverb and deep low end, the signature vocal loops have the fragility of gas dissipating in air, it is the heaviness and levity of modern life, the things you choose to take in, the things you choose to ignore and the things that still get through. Untrue has all of the excitement of early RZA productions, conventions abandoned at the expense of sound, in its own way as shocking and brutal as the Wu first were the first time you heard them.

Burial has received the type of praise normally reserved for The Wire, whether demanding to or not it seems to be taken seriously but again like artists in hip-hop and punk/post-punk it is not clear whether this perceived musical intelligence is deliberate innovation or a happy accident of taste, is this an attempt to change the sonic landscape or the after effect of a bedroom producer trying to make what they want to hear?  Is this the work of a student of music, steeped in theory and history or pure untrained genius, a natural talent? Natural talent are the best kind aren’t they?  They are the true ones.  If you’ve ever learned anything ever and been successful you’ve cheated.  All this seems like little more than a ([ever so] slightly) more high-brow distraction than Bizarre’s secret identity search but Burial can’t be talked about enough, you can’t be encouraged to listen to Burial enough, if you would prefer a more familiar form of introduction (and by proxy, recommendation) try and find his releases with Four Tet and Four Tet & Thom Yorke.

Adam Hiles