With its skipping beats and oppressive bass pressure, Burial's eponymous debut is a product of the dubstep scene, but it also pays homage to an older musical continuum of dark underground sounds and pirate radio culture which stretches from the nineties through to the present, encompassing jungle, drum ‘n’ bass, speed garage and UK garage. Nevertheless, Burial is most certainly not an album for the dancefloor – the most appropriate listening environment would be in a car driving through the city after dark whilst the rain pounds down and neon lights flicker outside. It's the sound of seventies dub meister King Tubby crying ‘Tears in Rain’ from the soundtrack to Blade Runner. Burial represent a hypermodern updating of the dub experience that genuinely embraces the spooked expanses and emptiness of the dub sound as opposed to just name-checking the genre.
The mix is continually wreathed in the sound of rain and record static – a nostalgia for a future London flooded by global warming but still crackling with the disembodied sound of pirate radio. Numerous elements fade in and out of the labyrinthine mix: off kilter dubstep rhythms clatter around the bottom end whilst massively reverbed synth pads, sirens, spooked vocals, film samples and ghostly echoes all move and blur through the sonic void. Lachrymose melodies slide tantalizingly in and out of the tracks just often enough to leave the listener wanting more. The ghosts of recent black UK musical culture swirl around the aural stratosphere, haunting the mixing desk in a way that makes Burial a true inheritor of Tubby and Lee Perry's enveloping soundscapes.
The guy behind Burial claims that he only uses an early version of Sound Forge (which isn't even a sequencer) to craft his tracks. This is perhaps the modern equivalent of the early dub heads who used primitive equipment and effects in order to create their colossal tracks.
Dub is only one reference point though. Tracks like ‘Distant Lights’, ‘U Hurt Me’ and ‘Pirates’ are mood masterpieces that will appeal to fans of David Sylvian and Brian Eno as much as they will to lovers of Kode 9, Plasticman and the whole grime/dubstep project. Tellingly, the album's only really indifferent moment is the only vocal track in the set: ‘Spaceape’ features the dystopian raps of Hyperdub label stalwart er...Spaceape, but doesn't really soar like the rest of the album, which is, overall, one of this year's best and a classic of sustained urban atmospherics.
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