Understated and esoteric are hardly the first words that come to mind when you think of dubstep (more likely: Skrillex and drop, in that order), but they’re two of the ones most often used to describe the genre’s resident auteur Burial. Though he’s only released a handful of material aside from his two full-lengths on Hyperdub, Burial has remained a central figure in the UK’s burgeoning, ever-evolving bass music scene. Despite the seemingly endless stream of praise and acclaim, Burial who only identified himself as London resident William Bevan after years of speculation on his identity has done well to ensure that his career continues to be marked by a certain disconnect, a conscious dissociation from any and all stylistic particulars, even as he’s matured from a promising and faceless young prodigy who managed to build a bridge between the most disparate corners of UK garage, rave, and DnB, and in doing so, made himself into one of the most distinctive and influential producers making music today.
With each successive release, Burial’s work has grown even more impossibly textured and immersive, peaking last year with Four Walls, a pair of 12-minute-plus Massive Attack remixes released on a limited 12″ which stretched his musical vision to its limits, never staying in one place for long as they shift and mutate repeatedly over the course of their extended track lengths. As of late, he’s also moved on to much more danceable fare, most notably on “Raver”, Untrue‘s dank, euphoric closer, and the title track off of last year’s Street Halo EP. Kindred, though, marks Burial’s first real move at the dancefloor, opening with the one-two punch of “Kindred” and “Loner”, a pair of tracks that are much more similar than their dichotomous names might suggest, and both of which do well to establish just how far off of his past work Burial has come.
The former appears at first to be familiar ground for fans of his past work, opening with all the usual ingredients of a Burial classic: the snap, crackle, and pop of vinyl mixes with the pitter-patter of rainfall as the track unfolds behind an off-kilter drum pattern and a typically doleful ascending vocal sample. But something’s amiss from the start: The thick, distorted baseline that quietly creeps into the mix is too menacing, the track’s mood too bleak and unstable, even by Burial’s sunless and capricious standards. And suddenly, just as all of “Kindred”s discordant bits and pieces seem about to fall into place, it all dissolves in a matter of seconds into the same gentle crackle from which it began, leaving behind nothing but the solitary vocal line and a subdued, though no less glowering synth pad. It’ll be right around then that you’ll almost definitely check the track time, only to learn that nearly 10 minutes have passed and “Kindred” is still about a minute from its end.
“Loner” opens to a voice calling out “there’s something out there.” There is indeed, as it turns out, a beast lurking nearby, and it leaps up without warning with an impossibly steady backbeat and ravey synth riff held high aloft as its weapons of choice. “Loner” is Burial at his most kinetic, the closest thing to a banger as we’re ever likely to hear from him. “Ashtray Wasp” plays out as the exact opposite, staying mostly off the dancefloor, opting instead to lurk in the shadows cast by “Loner”s haunted crashes where it looms, full of muted menace. “Wasp” also reprises another of Bevan’s favorite narrative forms: the intensely sobering experience that is a solitary bus ride through a desolate nocturnal cityscape. The familiar start-stop motion of late-night public transit is imitated in the track’s frequent and jarring transitions from one mini-suite into another, which themselves play off of the varied and rather unpredictable sounds that bleed without warning in and out the mix: half-audible phone conversations, a flurry of fleeting, half-formed beats, and, beneath it all, a grating sub-bass rumble.
The result of this disconcerting patchwork approach is Burial’s longest and arguably his most fully realized work to date, the furthest extent to which he’s yet taken his singular style that’s either reigned-in maximalism or minimalism gone wild, depending on how you cut it. Kindred as a whole is easily the most exciting Burial release since Untrue redefined dubstep way back in 2007. In the time since that now-hallowed album dropped, the world’s moved past dubstep into post-dubstep, darkstep, and a detritus of other increasingly ridiculously named sub-genres. As it turns out, so has Burial, who proves here that he’s far and above any sort of easy classification. What is Kindred, then? Call it trance, if only for showcasing the irrefutable hypnotic prowess of a master at the peak of his powers.
Essential Tracks: “Loner”, “Kindred”, “Ashtray Wasp”