Rough Sleep & Truancy: A Review of Burial’s New 12″

Adam Wray skipped work to write this. Listen to any two consecutive Burial releases and you’ll hear similar sounds and structures. Spin his 2007 debut after “Truant/Rough...
By    January 10, 2013

Adam Wray skipped work to write this.

Listen to any two consecutive Burial releases and you’ll hear similar sounds and structures. Spin his 2007 debut after “Truant/Rough Sleeper“and the changes in his sound become more apparent. His latest 12” marks an exciting new stage in his perpetual bloom. It’s his most unpredictable work to date, the least lashed to one specific set of influences. While garage and 2-step pioneers (El-B, A Guy Called Gerald) sketched the blueprints for Burial and Untrue., no skeleton key unlocks this new work. It’s rangy, ambitious, and refuses categorization.

“Truant” is Bevan at his most impressionistic, so it makes sense to describe it through images: a patchwork madras of faded blacks, grubby charcoals, and drab olives, accented by the buzz and hiss of neon signage. It unfolds over a restless 12 minutes, never settling too deeply into a single mood or tempo. Bevan eases us in with a loping garage beat and wind chimes before introducing thick bass swells and a female voice keening “I fell in love with you.”

Section two is built on a vocal loop so thoroughly worked over it’s tough to determine what’s being sung. This is one of Bevan’s go-to maneuvers, and it’s as effective here as ever. Far from alienating, it draws you into Bevan’s world, crafted in response to the sounds and sensations of moving through dense urban sprawl. It’s like overhearing snatches of muffled conversation through thin walls – a little reminder that the world is so much bigger than the paths you beat between your apartment, your job, and your favorite bars and restaurants. “Truant” ends with three anxious, murky minutes, the busiest Bevan’s yet put to tape and the closest he’s come to his hardcore roots. The way he’s stitched this section together with ragged smash cuts reminds me of a darkside Donuts, keeping that record’s sense of movement but swapping its sugary sweetness for coffee-and-cigarettes acridity.

This frenetic third act is puzzling. There are so many ideas crammed into such a tight space that you’d like to hear them unpacked and stretched out. I suspect they work best in this context, though. They belong to each other, and the fault lines between them form liminal spaces that are as important to the whole as is each constituent part on its own. It’s a challenging listen – like smoke, the harder you try to grasp it, the sooner it slips away. It’s a tune that teaches you how to listen to it, and it rewards patience.

On the flip, “Rough Sleeper” is immediately approachable. It’s a refinement of the mode Bevan began working in on Kindred – an expansive suite with linear builds and smooth, deliberate transitions between sections. It features two distinct movements and a shorter coda. The first is driven by organ chords and features a sampled saxophone – a fresh wrinkle in the Burial playbook. It’s Bevan’s warmest, most hopeful work to date, built around a two-step beat and calming mantras – “be strong,” “lights surrounding you.”

Around the six-minute mark he introduces an infectious bell riff and settles into a groove you could spend days with. On headphones, it’s uplifting – on a proper system it could be euphoric, tapping into the widescreen emotionality of mid-1990s house and jungle (Goldie’s “Timeless” and Orbital’s “Halcyon and On and On” come to mind). Compared to “Truant,” “Rough Sleeper” is by-the-book Burial, though very well done.

I mentioned Donuts earlier, and I think it’s an apt comparison, if not a little farfetched. There’s structural and emotional resonance between the two. Though they differ in content – Dilla’s opus was a deathbed missive on mortality while Bevan’s work hones in on big feelings in small, fleeting moments – both aim to convey a sense of impermanence. Both need to be listened to as whole entities to be properly understood.

So what’s next? As one of dance music’s premier auteurs, he’s earned enough leeway to try whatever the hell he wants to. We’ll see whether he continues along this helter skelter path or returns to more paved song structures.


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