My final words on the genius that is Burial.
In response to my high praise of Burial’s new CD in a recent post, we received this letter.
Hi, Thanks for the recommendation. I downloaded it (legally) from Bleep. It’s an excellent album that covers a large range of styles. Yet, I wonder about the assessment that it is an album of the decade. You do as well and I appreciate that. The fact is that there are several discs that contain elements of this effort. For instance, Muslimgauze’s efforts from the mid to late 90s, including Hezzbollah, which had dub, ambient, and found elements in it’s music. One might argue, and I would be willing to agree, that Muslimgauze did not contain the breadth of work or the coherency of Burial, but Muslimgauze was pointed in a different direction and actually surpassed Burial in many ways. There are other examples. My point: Burial is a great record for the masses, but it would not have been achieved without the efforts of many more experimental artists who came before.
Two things. One: the music of Burial brings to my mind the early music of DJ Vadim, rather than Muslimgauze. Both Vadim and Burial make haunted music. In Vadim, we constantly hear doors that are ghostly opened, and dead voices that rise from an inner-city cemetery. Similar effects haunt Burial’s beats. Two: readers, please, do as the writer of this letter has done and download Burial at Bleep.
Lastly, this is what I have written elsewhere about Burial’s impressive hauntology:
I finally own Burial’s debut CD Burial. It is as beautiful as the haunted mix Kode 9 made of it for Radio 1’s Breezeblock show. The only disappointment is that “Gaslight” did not make the final edit. “Gaslight” is the sonic peak of the Breezeblock mix. It follows the radiating, pirate radio signals of “South London Boroughs,” and has a heavy/sharp drum sequence that’s set against a soaring horn arrangement haunted by the damned. The one thing I waited for all last week was to hear the whole of “Gaslight.” But, to be fair, Burial is still stunning even without “Gaslight.” What Burial does with music—which is dense, urban, between the living and the dead, the dog and the wolf, concrete and dreams, the moans of lovers and the moans of phantoms—is what I want to do with words…
On Burial’s MySpace site, Hera posts:”[T]hat breezeblock mix was pure sex.” True, but it’s also pure death, or “dry loss,” as the French would say. It is, at once, everything and nothing.
I also wrote this about the track on Burial that has hardest hit my imagination, “Gutted”:
“Gutted,” which is on the mythic 20 minute-long mix by Kode 9, opens with a war-worn assassin expressing the importance of maintaining “the ancient ways, the old school ways.” After him, we hear such fantastic things: voices rising and falling from a ghost town in the distance; a rasta suffering from a heartbreak that’s more devastating than anything the loneliest of rastas, Gregory Issacs (the “Lonely Lover” of reggae), has ever suffered. (Where has she gone? Why has she gone? How happy he once was—“My love, my love, my love.”) There are other voices in other rooms. Suddenly a bass like the ghost of a ball, bounces down a series of steps and vanishes (except we hear this image in reverse motion). A dubbed horn flows in and out of consciousness.
The beat of “Gutted” is what I want to examine. As is evident in all of Burial’s tunes, the beat is what matters most. “[D]rums: they’re still the future,” he said in an interview on the blog Blackdown (blackdownsoundboy.blogspot.com). “…[P]eople still don’t know how to do…drums. It’s an unknown thing. Its like the last fucking secret left in music: how you do…drums[?]”
The drumming in “Gutted” has four parts: At the bottom, over the wide space of eight measures, is a bass drum that beats out various patterns (the primary one being a single beat that’s answered, after a short duration filled with hisses, crackles, and sparks, by two rapid beats). At the very top is a house high-hat that comes in and out of the mix. And in the middle, two snaps answer the crisp sample of a broken bicycle bell. It’s an oldtime bicycle bell; one that’s made of metal and has a little lever that’s designed for the thumb. But the bell doesn’t ring when its lever is pushed—instead it makes, one, an abrupt metal sound and, two, a louder, throaty, rattling sound.
This broken bicycle bell is the heartbeat of “Gutted.” But it is a dead heart. The bicycle bell no longer sends out a signal, a ring to warn the living. A dead thing keeps the beat of “Gutted” going. And the love-sorrows of the rasta, the city of the dead, and the words of the world-weary assassin—all are caught in this prison of time drummed up by a broken bicycle bell.
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