11 December 2013 (Hyperdub)
By Sarah Yarringinton and Daniel Orban
In his latest EP, Rival Dealer, Burial makes a major change in style, creating his most distinctive release yet. It’s a substantial deviation from the melancholic, atmospheric sounds that usually characterize his music. Burial compiles three long, episodic tracks, showcasing some of his trademark styles, instead of leaving them in the background. Experimenting with different sounds, and using vocal samples more deliberately, this is the first time he creates a clear sense of a theme. Many of the vocals are surprisingly clear, the sounds of needle drops on vinyl are extreme and we hear him use some drum and bass breaks, hip-hop vocals and even scratching. Characteristic features like spoken & sung vocal samples, vinyl hiss, ambient synths and an ample amount of bass have always been an aspect of his music, but Burial expands on these sounds drastically.
One of the most apparent changes compared to previous releases is in the percussion. “Hiders” and “Come Down To Us “ feature drum patterns that are very different from Burial’s usual 2-step and garage inspired rhythms. The first track, “Rival Dealer” starts on more familiar terrain. Once the drum break starts at a frantic pace, there’s an apparent change in mood halfway through the track, with the introduction of a deep and abrasive bass line. After “Rival Dealer,” comes “Hiders,” which takes another unexpected turn and sounds like it’s influenced by ‘80s disco and movie soundtracks. “Come Down To Us,” the album’s centerpiece, features slow, half-time drums and a long episodic format.
Burial’s releases in the past are based on his brother’s burned CDs and old tapes he made for him during the UK rave era’s peak. He grew up never quite experiencing the music the same way as his brother but rather creating his own reflection of what this world could be like. While synths and other melodic components were always featured in his tunes, the tone of his works was mostly reflective and wandering. In Rival Dealer, this remains somewhat true in the way he scatters little sound clips—the rattling of a spray paint can, the screech of a train’s breaks, police sirens, and static—over each of the tracks, making them familiarly atmospheric.
But, the use of emotion in this EP is definitely more noticeable than his past works. At the beginning of the EP, there is a sense of running away, or running to, best expressed by the vocal sample in the first track: “sometimes, you are trying to find yourself, and you run away, always—that’s what happened to me.” The chaotically fast pace of the song, and the booming bass lines, reminiscent of a racing heart, also create this feeling. This is combined with a feeling of searching, specifically for love or something like it—ghostly female voice proclaims, “I’m gonna love you more than anyone.” This vocal appears especially at the song’s points of escalation, i.e. the emotional, or even sensory, peaks. However, as the narrative continues, the tone quickly evolves into something much less abrasive, and rather the exact opposite.The record as a whole features plenty of more cheerful, or encouraging, samples and melodies. And this is unusual since, as an artist, he’s built most of his career on—while emotional—thematically vague music. This record disrupts this pattern by seeking to provide an uplifting experience for those who are feeling down and, especially, misunderstood or alone. Most of the vocal samples featured make statements that are assuring, positive and inspiring. To quote Burial himself, the tracks are “anti-bullying tunes that could maybe help someone to believe in themselves, to not be afraid, and to not give up, and to know that someone out there cares and is looking out for them.”
The vocal samples work together with the instrumental aspects to highlight themes of self-awareness, identity, and self-actualization, fear, freedom, love and connection—whether human or celestial. The vocals often take center stage and are quite easy to distinguish compared to most of the samples on Untrue or the self-titled LP, featuring snippets like “become one,” “this is who I am,” “don’t be afraid,” “you are not alone,” and the mantra of the album, “come down to us,” which carries feelings of well-being, reprieve, and protection provided by some angelic being. Having always utilized female and male voices in unusual ways, blurring the gender of the vocalist, Burial samples at the end of “Come Down To Us,” a part of Lana Wachowski’s HRC Visibility Award speech about her experience as a transgender person, adding another, but this time more specific, positive message which encourages self-acceptance.
Overall, this EP is quite a deviation from Burial’s comfort zone, and as it is unexpectedly different, devoted listeners might not enjoy it at first. However, after entering a listen to Rival Dealer with an open mind, and of course, an open heart, this can be a very enjoyable, refreshing, and uplifting experience.
Rating: Like it