Apparently Burial has been blowing up the international scene since 2006, providing the soundtrack to countless cinematic rainy London nights and spliff-sessions. The accolades are so high and universal, it’s as if the music genome in human DNA had been cracked, and Burial is the tightly engineered output of hundreds of scientific studies, carefully manipulated to affect the human condition in a precise and magnificent way. What could God’s drunken trumpet sound like?
First, take a simple, scattered, tinny dubstep beat and drain it of any bass of kinetic energy. Loop this ad finitum. Take a well-known vocal sample from a late 90s American R&B track and loop this, as well, and don’t forget to run this sample through a hodgepodge of filters and effects. Reappropriate some orchestral soundtrack bites from any new media you wish, and layer this in liberally, as well as any arbitrary dialogue that sounds benignly menacing out-of-context. Put this in the oven for about four days and let the sounds of analog decay marinate. Remove from heat and upload to the European consciousness. Congratulations! You’re now the savior of music.
I’ve read countless reviews of Burial’s work trying to assimilate myself into this new musical territory. About 90% of these appraisals proclaim Burial is THE soundtrack to walking around South London at three in the morning. I hadn’t realized the decades of moody, atmospheric, claustrophobic electronic music from the UK had left this particular patch of time and space unturned and unscored. I suppose an uneasy, disassociated feeling of dread and anxiety is the type of mood you’d want to saturate yourself in and explore at this hour.
I have nothing against Burial’s creator, he seems modest enough, shunning the spotlight and providing artwork and supplementation as bare as his music. He’s frequently stated he just wants to keep is head down and make ‘tunes’, an odd-word choice considering the myriad of sensory-defining monkiers that went on in the age of Portishead and Massive Attack: moodscapes, atmospheric compositions, soundtracks to films that don’t exist. ‘Tunes’ recall colloquialisms about sheet music and ragtime. The London Philharmonic would be quite bored if they were tasked with producing this with any kind of faithfulness.
I also admire Burial’s honesty about his producing methods. He uses SoundForge, which is not a MIDI tracker or sequencing software, but a WAV editor. It’s a primitive way of creating electronic music, and I have nothing but respect for his ability to create what he has with such limited tools. I can attest to this having made electronic music myself with a WAV editor, namely Goldwave. It’s incredibly difficult and time-consuming to manufacture any kind of variance without rebuilding the entire arrangement, something production tools like Ableton and Traktor make mind-numbingly easy. It’s akin to a filmmaker eschewing any technological advances and preferring to cut and tape film negatives together. But surely his dubstep-ludditism (I just want to mail that concept to someone in 1920 and imagine their horror) is not the celebrated aspect of Burial’s music.
The music is so minimal and intentionally unencroaching it’s a wonder how anyone noticed it in the first place. I won’t attack his fans’ rabid assessment of Burial’s musicianship, something left better to a writer more bitter and more verbose in musical theory than I. I can only speculate the bare essence and lo-fi nature of Burial’s work leaves so much space for the listener to fill, perhaps a well-deserved respite from the dogmatic and unabashedly hedonistic dubstep filling the nation’s dancefloors. It’s interesting that the droning, repetitive nature of Burial is the springboard of choice for many a British imagination. However it’s unfortunate the sound of apathy and self-involvement is heralded as the ‘new sound’.
I officially feel like an old man, systematically dissecting a new musical act in an effort to understand it. “Maybe they’re all just on drugs!” is my unofficial aging knee-jerk stance. But, between this and the James Blake LP, I wonder how anyone in London gets out of bed in the morning.