Seeing Alien: Covenant last night, it’s hard not to feel like the project has retreated from the narrow focus that made its significant chapters indelible. The franchise follows the exhausted path of bands, film franchises, restaurants, that they pack on characteristics to streamline their product, only causing the opposite. As U2, Coldplay and more parody their own caricature, they double their casual fans and alienate their core.
Of course, William Bevan and his Burial project not only continue to be the opposite of that, but the latest single Subtemple / Beachfires doubles down on traveling to the deepest basement of his sound castle. This is the furthest transmission like Bevan is in a wooden ship teetering on the edge of the map, just about to fall into something even Brian Eno or Wolfgang Voigt wouldn’t even consider music.
Ten years on and we are still without a true follow up to the crown jewel of 00’s electronica, Burial’s Untrue. EP's and singles have appeared at first regularly and later sporadically, their randomness made up for by a continuing refinement of the future garage and 2-step sounds. That is, until November, when Young Death / Nightmarket released to a collective sigh that sounded like a muted track on the project. For those that loved that single, this will test your feelings. For those that felt it lacked the classic Burial sound, this single doubles down on everything it surfaced. Where “Young Death” felt empty — “Subtemple” feels desolate. Where “Nightmarket” felt unrealized — “Beachfires” feels unfinished.
Subtemple begins with a crash and a drone and continues with sparse sounds, a window tapping, a repeating vocal flourish, and tapes rewind. As digital cards rhythmically shuffle, a small echoing piano tone lingers in the distance, like a music box someone forgot to close. At 5:00, a knock on the door, deep breathing like a computer controlled sleep apnea mask and the music box continues, with whispering and paper shuffling. The vocal refrain “It gets so loud” continues on and off, like someone in the room is singing with headphones on that we can’t hear. The track makes “Young Death” sound like M83.
”Beachfires”’ synth haze floats in the short intro as chains and steps hit in the background, like the character is being released from digital prison. Vinyl clicks and pops accompany randomly appearing and disappearing pads of sound with the distance reverb turned up to eleven. The tone is so skeletal its hard to even judge. It feels like we are in someone’s studio while they play with different background tones that will be buried in the mix. A digital gong or alarm adds some differentiation at around four minutes marking a unique moment for Burial — a track that feels as long as it is.
Maybe playing a bit to your audience wouldn’t be such a bad play? As Burial continues to explore the outer reaches of ambient dub, he is just sailing endless gray swamps. Is it relatively unexplored territory? Sure. But maybe its unexplored for a reason. C