Burial: Burial

Merging a particularly serpentine and slinky form of dubstep with Pole's cavernously textured digi-dub seems like such a natural and brilliant idea one wonders why no one thought to do it before Burial. An avalanche of praise has been heaped on the eponymous release already but in this case the hype is justified: it's literally a fifty-one minute triumph, and the care with which the unidentified producer has assembled its seductively malevolent material is clear at every moment. In truth, reducing the release to a dubstep-Pole equation does it a huge disservice given its meticulous attention to detail, a case in point the almost subliminal silken melody in “Broken Home” that'll leave you swooning. Crackle connoisseur Burial elaborates upon Pole's filter-generated texture, making it sound like a pirate radio transmission calling from the deepest heart of the jungle at one moment (“Wounder”), and rain- or fire-generated elsewhere.

The album begins with an untitled intro featuring Benicio del Toro's gravelly voice before “Distant Lights” sucks you into its dark, merciless zone. Smothered in static and noise, a voice soulfully wails “Now that I need you...” amidst muffled horn sounds and bass rumbles that emanate from some subterranean crypt. The song introduces Burial's most distinctive element: a percussive sound that resembles swords crossed or knives unsheathed, or perhaps more simply the swishing noise produced by scissors (Photek deployed something similar in his early material); the effect adds a bright, piercing dimension while also injecting a subtly violent undercurrent. Spaceape spices up the track bearing his name by delivering his ‘crypto-biography' ("We are hostile aliens immune from dying") in a Jamaican drawl so captivating one almost overlooks the lurching rhythm churning alongside it . The rumbling, vaguely Arabian vibe of “You Hurt Me” makes the title vocal cry seem less a petulant declaration of emotional wounding than the dying sigh of a knife victim as blood drips down his freshly slit chest. Distilling many of Burial's strengths into a single piece, “Broken Home” illuminates an echo-drenched mechano-lurch of static haze and soul vocalizing with a haunting four-note hook. Here and elsewhere, anguished voices humanize the viral settings (e.g., the amorous vocalizing of a female seductress in “Gutted”). Not everything is so unsettling as Burial includes some gorgeous ambient settings (“Night Bus” and “Forgive”) that are as entrancing as anything on Eluvium's Talk Amongst the Trees.

Stealthily slithering like an eel through a murky swamp, Burial's ghostly material oozes the grime and grit of the city's back streets yet, being so hypnotic, is perfect for the opium den too. Most of the previously unreleased pieces (a couple of tracks appeared on a 2005 Hyperdub 12-inch) were recorded between 2001 and 2006 but none of it sounds in the least dated; despite the tired voice's utterance in "Gutted" ("Sometimes you gotta stick with the ancient ways, the old-school ways"), Burial, like Spaceape's ancient-future name, sounds both primitive and visionary. If Burial's debut album isn't as sui generis as Pole's, it's fantastic nonetheless.

August 2006