Review: Burial, Young Death/Nightmarket

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One of the last great survivors of attempted anonymity, Burial prefers to be known by his music. So much so, that when he felt his anonymity was getting in the way of his music, he casually posted a photo and greeting through an online publication and on his Myspace page. It was the opposite of attention grabbing and thus the opposite of 2016. It was 2008, though, and refreshing to see a talent so ripe and a spotlight so refused.

He wasn’t Richard James, or Kieran Hebden, or the guy from the Orb, he was and is William Bevan, a guy from South London who has never played a live show, never a DJ set, and his interviews make Bob Dylan look like Billy Corgan. Burial is mystery denoted. Yet, someone so mysterious is the perfect creator for such satisfying music. He is a dark audio chef, and he makes us wait for our order. We waited from 2007 until 2011 with basically nothing but silence in between his ultimate world — Untrue until the second phase of his career, pieced together song cycles released on 12”. He hasn’t technically followed up his 2007 masterpiece, and he might never do it, but it doesn’t matter much, as long as he keeps surprising us with new tunes, and we like them in December, to mess up our minds and year end best-of lists.

For the last three years we have been in another Burial waiting room. There was Temple Sleeper but that felt more like the keeping of his promise to release some old tunes than his next artistic step. There was some stuff with Zomby this year, but it felt like something on the side. Now we have the “official” next step for Burial. A move toward the mainstream like James Blake? A move for nostalgia like Daft Punk? No to both, a complete and utter move further inside the mind of Burial.

Young Death/Nightmarket is a sort of ambient, kind of downtempo, somewhat ambient house, vaguely future garage two part single. You are on the right track if you are catching that this thing is hard to pin down. Apple Music calls it “Dance” which is as hilarious as it is obviously wrong. Gone are the dancing drum patterns of Kindred, gone are the long passages Truant/Rough Sleeper, gone are the right and left turns of Rival Dealer, we are left with the skeleton of Burial. In some ways, this record sounds more like listening to someone listening to Burial than listening to Burial yourself.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, although, I would advise listening with headphones, and if you purchase off of bandcamp, download the FLAC and not the more compressed mp3. There is a ton happening here that I didn’t pick up on when I listened off Apple Music’s AAC files. Also if you listened to any of the early rips from this weekend, they don’t have the richness of the official release. 

Side A is “Young Death” — it starts with a classic wounded call from an unknown voice. A dusty bass drum lives under the whole track, while other percussion, a bouncing tambourine, and pops and clicks added for effect enter and exit almost at random. Some techno bongos make a brief appearance as well as some fluttering keyboards. The changes continue, never returning to what came before, but never quite departing either, the refrain — “I will always be there for you” is the hook that Bevan keeps coming back to, as it sits on top of a pile of imaginary vinyl fuzz. Surprisingly, at 3 minutes, the track cuts out, like someone hit pause to listen to the rain hitting their windows. Then a different track starts, the listener hit next, although the refrain is from the same source, albeit with some different words. A thin snare carries until the track ends and leads well into its side B.

“Nightmarket” is the sound of living inside a rapidly firing computer lost in the A.I. junkyard. Or maybe more clearly — it sounds like Oneohtrix Pt. Never track. The whole thing cycles through twice across seven minutes, Blade Runner keys at their barest, muffled speaking, and skittering synthesizers. The track falls off quickly, almost sounding like a car engine giving up, and ambient haze gradually grows louder. It sounds like a playground with the white noise turned up to eleven. It disappears and we are back where we began. The second time through though, the synth moments build somewhat, like a gathering of like ideas and echoes, and it feels like we are headed to a payoff, but the song descends to a close.

The whole record feels like someone had it open in Ableton and muted half of the tracks. They feel more like head trips than tracks, more like the audio for some indie VR experience than true Burial tracks. They are engaging, but ultimately don’t have the same replay-ability as the classic Bevan stuff. I can’t imagine many Burial fans think this side of Bevan is his best. I won’t say no to a new Burial 12”, ever. But I will say, neither song will become a classic Burial tune. Both are interesting, and both would have fit much better on the never-going-to-happen Untrue follow up. These tracks could have been a valuable edition to a bigger record, but alone, they don’t have the moments or the beats to merit a must own single. B