, December 16th, 2013 11:12
It's fascinating how certain pieces of music fold themselves around your day-to-day existence, rendering you sensitive to things you might otherwise miss while lost within a cloud of mundane thoughts. Burial makes music for journeys: for gritty, ear-numbing strolls across frosty inner cities, for foggy morning walks across moors with hands thrust deep into anorak pockets, for gazing at your reflection in blackened windows on that by-now-stereotypical last bus home. With new EP Rival Dealer clocking in at just under 28 minutes, it slips perfectly into the evening walk from my house to work.
The relentless evolution of Rival Dealer's sound patterns keeps you constantly on your toes; the opening rumbles of thunder and crackly gravel squelches on the title track are frequently indistinguishable from the landscape surrounding you, making it tough at times to tell music from reality. The first two thirds of the track are probably the closest Will Bevan's ever been to following an out-and-out dance trajectory, featuring an addictive drum break that leaps out surprisingly from behind a pop vocal hook, wrapping itself within a silky coating and pummelling onwards, past the end of my street and onto the long stretch of road that leads to the main street ahead.
It teeters on the edge of chaos, all grit and tarmac and asphalt, until it slips off the kerb between familiar androgynous vocal samples, beginning again heavier and darker after each and every pause. The snippets of voice too become increasingly vehement, beginning as barely coherent mutters of "this is who I am", and soon escalating to Lord Finesse snarling "you know my motherfucking style" within mere minutes. The defiance seeps from every edge, and then just as you've settled into a quickened pace, glaring at anything and anyone that comes your way, it suddenly, mid-zebra crossing, all gets a little Kate Winslet dangling off the Titanic. Around the nine minute mark, the track opens out into an ocean of glowing ambience, and while much of Bevan's work rotates around a persistent feeling of concrete and earth, here you're suddenly not stepping over crisp packets and tripping on uneven paving slabs, but floating high above your own body, viewing it all from beyond. It's a reminder that underneath the heavy tangibility of Burial that's very much rooted in physical, urban spaces, there's also very much an uncanny, disembodied element to his work.
'Hiders' has quickly emerged as the EP's most divisive track so far, what with its bleeding chords positioned over tape crackle and patters of rain, broken only by carefully selected saccharine lyrics. Indeed, it hinges on absurdity when the Phil Collins power ballad drums arrive, taking the whole thing miles away from the gale force of 'Rival Dealer'. Yet at the same time it's hardly surprising considering the unabashed emotional openness that he's previously flirted with on tracks like 'Near Dark', 'NYC' and 'Unite'. The blatant tongue in cheek cheesiness of it all will, and indeed already has, put many people off. But placed in the current scenery - breath misting in the air, splatters of Christmas lights draped over semi-detached suburban houses - there's an undeniable element of romance to it. A teenage couple walk past to echoes of "you are the sunrise", hands clutched together, cheeks pink from the cold. It's probably the most radiant Burial has ever sounded.
Of course it's only transitory, and by the time I'm passing my old primary school, bolted to keep the playground furniture in and the undesirable extra curricular activities out, we're back below the surface and into the ominous opening of 'Come Down To Us', where the 1980s drums have boiled down to a dusting of lazy snares and sultry, atmospheric pop melodies. The EP is at its most skeletal here, the same threads of dialogue from earlier repeating themselves, even the familiar "there's something out there" line that first appeared on 2012's 'Loner' reemerging amongst the gun reloads and lighter clicks.
Beyond the spray can rattles, vinyl crackles, and Gchat alerts, these samples of 'be yourself' defiance and unashamed sexuality are a little more weighted, a little more politicised, perhaps, than what we've heard from him before. Bevan closes the track with an extended sample of a Lana Wachowski speech, given after she received the Human Rights Campaign's Visibility Award last year. In full, the 31-minute speech is a funny and incredibly moving tale of an individual's coming out struggle ("After school I go to a nearby Burger King and write a suicide note. It ends up being over four pages. I'm a little talkative"). Here, out of context, it still contains that specificity, but also becomes more widely applicable; remove the perspective of being transgendered, and these feelings of isolation and self-contempt could potentially apply to anyone.
It's an interesting focal point for Bevan, and as I reach my destination at the summit of the steep hill I've spent the dying moments of 'Come Down To Us' climbing, it occurs that the connection between Wachowski and Bevan could be interpreted pretty simply. Both are artists that struggle with the tension between craving anonymity and media silence, and yet wanting to provide inspiration and a platform of support to those on the fringes of society. Bevan has always been concerned with creating urban ballads for the disenfranchised from behind a veil; not always this openly, but often hinted at through titles ('Loner', 'Rough Sleeper', 'Truant', 'Homeless') and alluded to in early interviews. The uneven narrative of Rival Dealer itself mimics the tumult of teenhood, and leaves you reeling with those years of hiding in the toilets at lunchtime, spending nights speeding in cars and drinking plastic bottles of cider in the park, angry at everything and everyone. It's at this point that these compositions come to mean something a little more potent than an over-sentimentalised stroll across an overcast canvas of society. Rather, they function as compassionate anthems that rally against the wrought iron tempestuousness of youth.