The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Album Of The Week

It’s Raining Menace: Burial’s Antidawn
Marthe Lisson , January 13th, 2022 09:50

The most substantial release from William Bevan in nearly fifteen years is a bleak sonic postcard with just a note of warmth in its tail, finds Marthe Lisson

“Antidawn reduces Burial’s music to just the vapours,” is the main statement accompanying Burial’s new release. It only takes a few seconds to realise that there is a new sound at play, something unheard of in Burial's oeuvre so far. And it quickly becomes clear that something is not quite right in the story we are listening to and that those vapours might just be the sonic essence of the past two years.

Antidawn is William Bevan aka Burial’s new EP released on Hyperdub Records. At forty-three minutes, it is his longest release since Untrue (2007). The five tracks range from six to eleven minutes length and are a continuation of, and at the same time a big leap on, his journey of recent years – towards reduction, and towards longer, more experimental tunes. Antidawn is almost entirely devoid of beats. The best you can hope for is a hardly noticeable pulsing under the surface here and there. There are familiar soundbites such as the crackling vinyl, the pouring rain, high-pitched voices, but there is also an emptiness and rawness that is striking.

Burial’s sound has always been gloomy, but Antidawn is a new chapter in gloominess. It is better, it sounds real. The missing beats create space to tell stories, through samples and field recordings. Musically, there is a lot to discover, too, as Burial moves at the intersection of ambient, gaming sounds, and songwriting.

Antidawn is a dark record that turns slightly lighter and warmer towards the end. It begins with ‘Strange Neighbourhood’, an eleven-minute sound collage. Someone’s clearing her throat multiple times, but the anticipation is never met. She will not speak. Instead a high pitched voice throws in the words “you came around my way”. The atmosphere is cold and eerie. The wind hitting the microphone sounds at times like an explosion far away. There is a wavering sub-bass. Once the synth texture sets in it gets a little warmer and brighter, we can hear wind chimes, then a sacral organ, disrupted vocals singing. The sound grows and swells. The natural noises blend in with the artificial music. Towards the end, the atmosphere returns to the cold and slightly surreal quality of the beginning. “Nowhere to go”. Someone’s breathing. Abrupt ending. Burial refuses endings.

The notes accompanying the release suggest that Antidawn tells the story “of a wintertime city, and something beckoning you to follow it into the night. The result is both comforting and disturbing, producing a quiet and uncanny glow against the cold.” I can hear that very cold, dark, everything-but-inviting city. Those bits of city life we hear are police sirens. The city from the perspective of someone who does not have a warm place go.

Even in those moments of warm glowing synths and noises of rumbling in the kitchen – usually the warmest place in the house – I would not want to be in the story I am listening to. Also, because I am listening to the stories of ghosts. There are voices, but they are too distorted and high-pitched to possibly be human. Empty corpses wandering the streets making very human noises: they sneeze, cough, inhale.

‘Shadow Paradise’ is a comparatively light and uplifting piece. Snippets of acoustic guitar, for a change voices that do sound warm and human, a chorus singing “Let me hold you for a while”. Someone is pressing buttons on a cassette recorder; music plays and stops. A ‘Wish You Were Here’-moment. We left the streets, we are inside, but the space does not feel inhabited despite the obvious sound of movement in the background. Individuals move about their lives, not connected to each other or the world. Fractured, disjointed and at times dysfunctional stories about dislocation. What holds them together is the crackling vinyl, the sound of pouring rain. It’s raining a lot on Antidawn.

The lyrics, if you can call them that, are calls without responses, just words thrown into the ether: “Nowhere to go” – “I’m in a bad place” – “I'm not your kind” – “I am lost”. Just like the compositions as a whole, a patchwork sampled together.

In 2019 Adam Lehrer wrote for the Quietus about Burial's compilation Tunes 2011 to 2019 and about how he felt that Bevan’s first two albums – Burial (2006) and Untrue (2007) – were “a vivid audio portrait of an entire generation’s disappointment and anguish.“ A generation not only haunted, but hunted down by capitalism. In 2019, however, Lehrer had hope – particularly in figures like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, and that “Burial’s music will be there with me, offering a portal outside of whatever chaos lies ahead.“ Whether Antidawn is that portal outside of the chaos we have been experiencing shortly after the release of his article I do not know. But I cannot imagine it. The world Burial is portraying is bleak. The title speaks for itself. A generation disappointed is more and more a generation disenchanted. And two years into the pandemic, Antidawn is its soundtrack. Corbyn lost, Sanders became a meme, people are tired and overwhelmed.

When we are overwhelmed we do not know what to say. We turn silent, we retreat. That is how we listen to Antidawn; it is not music for the club, it is music to be enjoyed by yourself, on headphones. Burial’s EP has a lot to offer in terms of soundscapes, at the same time it is a quiet and slow-paced record with space between musical ideas. The tracks take their time and in doing so demand ours. In a world that is hyper busy and constantly craving our attention, Antidawn is both an antithesis and an accurate sonic portrayal of the state of our society. It is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but a matter-of-fact depiction of where we are. Ultimately, the vapours of the past two years are extracted into sound. The dubstep artist has gone silent, the beats have ceased. So much is going on in the world that we do not have the capacity to digest all that we hear; either we cannot or we do not want to listen anymore. Self-inflicted, self-protecting muteness. But Burial also gives us a glimpse of hope. The record ends with lighter and warmer moments, there are faint signs of beats beneath the surface. Let us cling on to it and let us listen intently to Antidawn not as the portal outside of these chaotic pandemic times, but as the portal that leads us out of these times altogether.