April 22, 2009

Burial – South London Boroughs 12” and s/t CD (2005/6, Hyperdub)

I was introduced to Burial's music after I saw SLB listed in the top 10 on a “Best of 2005” list which included audio clips, and was instantly intrigued by what sounded to me like a mix of Rhythm & Sound-style dubby chords over a 2step-ish beat with a fantastic woodblock sound instead of a snare/clap. As I read more, and observed the somewhat over-zealous (but perhaps deserved) enthusiasm of the hipster music magazines, I realized this new style was called “dubstep” and there was a lot more of it where Burial came from (the UK, mostly). Dubstep takes elements like massive sub-bass, skitter-y step-y rhythms, and pitched-up vocal samples from UK jungle, and slows it down to a more danceable house music speed, or sometimes takes it in a more hiphop direction (which I think is referred to as “grime” if I have all my genre names in order here..). It is especially refreshing to hear dance music that is not centered on a 4/4 kick drum pulse ala “disco music”. Rather, dubstep uses rhythmic motifs from African and Carribean dance styles, updated with modern plug-ins and heavy bass programming. Burial, via the record label Hyperdub, was the first introduction for many in the US to the dubstep sound. While the past couple years have seen some innovations building on his sound, Burial’s first two records are timeless and stand on their own as excellent works of electronic music. There is something haunting and mysterious about Burial’s music, and perhaps this relates to the fact that for a few years he was insisting on anonymity such that no one even knew the artist’s real name. The vibe is ominous and melancholy yet with a silver-lining, and a rhythmic intensity that compels you to “keep moving”. The track “U Hurt Me” sends shivers up my spine. The chilling, surreal juxtaposition of a Michael Jackson vocal sample over the clattering beats of Nite Train sum up the Burial sound perfectly: “Close your eyes, let that rhythm get into you.”