words by Nick Graveline
On Sunday February 12th, 2012, the year of the projected Mayan apocalypse, Skrillex won three Grammy awards for what can only be described as his attacks on music as a respected art form. Under normal circumstances, I would have wailed like a banshee until my lungs wrung themselves vacant, or was finally silenced by a minor aneurysm, but luckily that night was not composed of normal circumstances. On that same evening, enigmatic London producer Burial (aka Will Bevan) made his new EP Kindred available for streaming courtesy of Hyperdub. Suddenly, the fate of music, and my own personal well being, seemed bright and limitless, albeit a bit shrouded in a certain bummed-out majesty that’s the hallmark of every Burial release to date. Kindred is no exception.
The same formula that makes his earlier releases so haunting/beautiful/melancholy is wholly intact on Kindred, but Will Bevan is not the type to keep things stagnant. His trademark aesthetic still bares the warmth and reverb of a dark cathedral, but with an element that almost begs to be dropped at clubs, or cranked out-car stereos. Unlike his collaboration with Massive Attack back in 2011, which saw his production hone in on ambient textures with minimal doses of his trademark beat work, Kindred straddles the extremes of being ethereal and straight up jams. The bass line on “Kindred”, the closest Burial has really come to anchoring one of his tracks with commercial dubstep’s trademark wobble, coupled with pounding drums and vocal wisps of what sounds like an estranged diva, make for the perfect comedown banger after a night out. On “Loner” we also see Burial employing conventions that until now he’s opted against. While his drum kits always seem to feature what sounds like knives sharpening, shell casings dropping on concrete, and chains being rattled in an empty warehouse, “Loner” features claps for the first time on a Burial release to date. That, taken with the driving synth line that is just as stunning as it is simplistic, suggests that this is not a track completely destined for at-home listening.
Yet what will ultimately keep these tracks from being dropped in clubs has nothing to do with their components, but rather their structure. Clocking in at eleven minutes and some change, “Kindred” and “Ashtray Wasp” both evolve in an almost stream of consciousness trajectory, where periods of driving beats will suddenly drop off into moments of soundscapes, indecipherable samples, and textured vinyl hiss, before switching gears entirely in favor of fresh drums, vocals, or synth work. “Loner” operates in a very similar fashion, but on a smaller scale, due mainly to its shorter length, but even here Bevan includes moments where he almost forces the listener to reflect on what they’ve just heard.
The structure is both curious and intriguing, and I’m pulled in three directions. Are we as listeners supposed to view these often unheralded transitions as Bevan’s lack of artistic focus? Doubtful. Is there a subtext that’s meant to draw allusions to the fragmented state of mass consumer culture, where radio singles and ringtones are often preferred when pitched against flushed out, fully operational albums? Possibly. Or is it meant to be, as my friend Cameron suggested when we were dorking out over the new tracks online, an album sampler, to whet our appetites for his next full length, just waiting for the world to develop the mental capacity to handle it without succumbing to fits of mournful, but nevertheless ecstatic, nirvana? God I hope so. Until then, I’ll be content blasting Kindred out of my car’s blown speakers, and relishing in the knowledge that there’s simply no way Skrillex is the future of electronic music, and not because he’s, should we say, under qualified, but because the future may already be here.