Much revered UK electronic producer Burial returns with his most formal new release since 2007’s masterwork Untrue; a full on immersion into sound collage and field recordings.
BURIAL – Antidawn
[Sound Collage, Field Recordings – UK – Hyperdub]
Adored UK based bedroom electronic producer Burial returns with his most formal record release in fifteen years. By that I mean, this is the first record of all new material to be released on all formats and feature formal cover art since 2007’s game changing masterwork Untrue. But that isn’t to say the story of anonymous publicity shy producer William Bevan stopped there… Far from it! I still remember hearing Untrue when it was first released and it sounded like absolutely nothing else. Bevan created a new language within electronic music, pulling from the fringes of UK garage and being in the thick of the emerging dubstep scene, yet making something thoroughly unique still. The hiss and crackle of a vinyl record, heavily manipulated samples from video games and YouTubers, the sounds of gunshots and pistol clips falling to the floor in place of percussion, and those iconic shuffling and brittle snaking beats that are still instantly recognisable as being the Burial signature. Many of Untrue‘s sonics and production techniques gave off this highly atmospheric sound like you were stumbling through the rainy suburban streets at night, head down, hands in pockets, just trying to get home whilst avoiding confrontations with drunken revellers, the occasional whirring sounds of trains, buses and cars roaring in the background, eyeing up a fox darting across the street ahead of you.
Though there has not been a “third album” as such, Burial has still been super prolific, finding a new format by releasing at least one vinyl only single per year, as well as collaborating with the likes of Thom Yorke, Four Tet and Zomby. In fact, subsequent releases such as Kindred, Street Halo and Rival Dealer throughout the early 2010s have arguably been even more immersive and spectacular than the songs on Untrue. But as the previous decade rolled towards a close, this format of just releasing 2-3 track singles over and over started to wear thin on fans and came with diminishing returns. Some of these releases, including Claustro, Young Death and Rodent started to sound almost lazy, or like an artist on autopilot. Burial’s signature style would start to fade away into much more sparse experiments into ambient and sound collage. Perhaps the most baffling and unsatisfying of these was last year’s single ‘Dolphinz’ which consists of nine minutes of Seaworld voice announcements and stock samples of dolphin noises, presented in a non-linear format that barely even feels like an actual track. This combination of hearing an artist reach creative burnout, and the world of electronic music moving passed the excitement of the Burial sound and into new territories made Bevan feel less relevant, no matter how beloved those early works still are.
Antidawn on the other hand, feels like a new start for Burial. 43 minutes of new music across five tracks and even a proper release roll out and an album cover. This feels like the significant step forwards that fans had been wanting for so long. But Burial in no way is going back to the well as this is certainly no Untrue. Across these five tracks, Burial continues on the path he has been walking on with his most recent singles, pushing further into ambient, sound collage, field recordings and non-linear song structures. However these tracks feel like his best and most detailed attempts at this new style, resulting in an album length “EP” that feels comprehensive and really amounts to something. Many of the Burial signatures we know and love are here, only without the beats and song structures. The pop and crackle of vinyl, the floaty synths, warbling and down-pitched samples of singers, distant conversations, bad weather… It’s all here, but played so much more vaporous and fractured than ever before. These five abstract dreamworks drift along as if they are flittering in and out of existence, being played from a soundsystem with broken speakers.
For those on the fence, I would recommend listening to the track ‘New Love’ first, which is the closest to sounding like an actual tune. Unlike the other tracks, the ever so quiet ambient synth that hangs in the background is fairly constant, and there is even an ever so faint clicking rhythm that sounds like a metronome. Contrasting this, eleven minute opener ‘Strange Neighbourhood’ sounds formless, like a series of manipulated samples and field recordings taped together and perhaps edited to the movement of images we aren’t seeing. It would feel cheap to call it random, as I’m sure to Bevan it does have a linearity to it, but to us it feels like finding jigsaw pieces with no guiding image of how they fit together. A ghostly organ motif suddenly appears three minutes in only to disappear a few minutes later. The track still has another four minutes to go and sort of staggers in and out of malformed ideas and sketches until its close. The opening of ‘Shadow Paradise’ almost has form for the first couple of minutes and sounds like a James Blake song that has been drenched and tattered after being left in the washing machine, before going off in other directions for the rest of the running time.
Each of the five tracks here have moments of wonder and intrigue, but also feel aimless with spots that drag. Antidawn is easily Burial’s most challenging release of his entire discography and one that long terms fans should admire and feel bewildered by in equal measure. Bevan’s attempts to make something different and fresh should certainly be admired, and for one to appreciate Antidawn, they must leave their expectations and desires firmly at the door. Antidawn is the kind of record that you listen to and observe, but may struggle to really feel immersed in or moved by. Like a dream, it’s too abstract to really comprehend, as if you are skipping between different locations and conversations with no dots to connect them together.
There have been quite a few significant music releases cropping up that express similar feelings though, and Antidawn could be a piece of an exciting new renaissance of artists telling stories and dreams through an increased use of field recordings and manipulated spoken word samples. Think of Claire Rousay’s spectacular A Softer Focus, Blanck Mass’ subversive In Ferneaux and Space Afrika’s equally atmospheric Honest Labour. All released in 2021 and reaching similar conclusions through a shared sonic pallet and adherence to experimental forms. Though probably not intentional, there are even similar glimpses to contemporary hip-hop artists such as Clipping who are eschewing beats and linear structures in favour of finding new textures and atmospheres. Perhaps once again, Burial is creating new language within the fringes of electronic music. Antidawn is a little bit frustrating in its presentation, but works better when you don’t think about it so much and just let it be (ironic I know, considering this rambling essay I’ve written). Like a dream, you have to just be in it and not try to understand exactly what it is.
Antidawn is out now digitally through Hyperdub Records, with CD and vinyl released on January 28th 2022.