Burial – Kindred EP review

ImageIt’s hard to overestimate the influence Burial has had on electronic music of the past half decade. With his second album, 2007’s Untrue, he opened the door for so much music that has come since. His record sales alone have greatly contributed to the continued success of Hyperdub, one of the most acclaimed forward-thinking electronic music labels in the world.

“I want [my music] to be like a little sanctuary,” he told The Guardian in 2007. “It’s like that 24-hour stand selling tea on a rainy night, glowing in the dark.” Then again, Untrue was intended to be an optimistic record, unlike the bleaker worldview of his self-titled debut. Last year’s excellent Street Halo EP and his collaborations with Four Tet, Thom Yorke and Massive Attack all suggested a return to his darker origins after scarcely releasing material for years., but Kindred has examples of both, and often on the same track. Rather than use longer track lengths (all songs are between 7 and 12 minutes long) to expand on one idea and incrementally build it to a crescendo in the way artists like Villalobos have mastered, the three songs shift, twisting into unrecognisable shapes. ‘Loner’ is a bonafide techno banger  until its dizzying arpeggios give way to a brief, beautiful ambient epilogue.

Low-quality rips of ‘Ashtray Wasp’ have been circulating online for a while now. I managed to resist the temptation to listen to it until I could hear it in all its glory, and it has paid off. It’s widescreen soul music for the digital age, and it makes perfect sense after the closing passage of ‘Loner’. It’s the EP’s highlight, with Burial is at his understated best, employing distorted and manipulated vocal samples fluently and, as ever, everyday sounds like footsteps or trains. It has the hallmarks of Burial’s classic sound, but it’s also arguably his most ambitious work to date.

Despite the upcoming Olympics, and Michael Gove’s idea of a “gift from the nation” to the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee – a £60m yacht for the Queen on her Jubilee – the country is in complete disarray. Recent reports from the CBI suggesting the UK is set to avoid a double dip recession have done little to quell the ever-growing wave of discontent. Only a fortnight ago, RBS boss Stephen Hester was forced to give up his £1m bonus due to public and political backlash. The ominous melancholia that always informed Burial’s sound has a new context that is more appropriate than ever. It’s tempting to view Burial’s shift towards more driving, claustrophobic bangers as a conscious one. Given how withdrawn the South London producer is, though, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever know.

There have been many pretenders to the throne in Will Bevan’s absence, but as Blackdown said in a podcast years ago, “just because you’ve got an ambient pad and a two-step beat, it doesn’t mean you’re Burial”. There is an unmistakeable ‘ghost in the machine’ quality to his work that no one has yet managed to replicate. Rarely has electronic music sounded this human, this organic, this perfectly flawed.

Listen to/buy the EP here: http://www.hyperdub.net/releases/view/149/HDB059

Jack Steadman

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