Untrue, Burial’s 2007 dubstep album, got its plays on my VW’s stereo in the darkening hours. Sometimes with a friend, often alone, tearing along the lightless roads of St Andrews. Past parked cars on the West Sands road; their headlights on full beam but seeing no face through the windscreen. City Road, South Street, Bell Street. Past the pubs and the dinner parties; seeing the lively silhouettes in lit rooms and the condensation on the windows, but feeling none of the warmth. Isolated in my steel box, plugged in to the utmost, listening as he shreds through the brutal desertion of his soundscapes.
These are murky tunes, existing on what feels like a formless ocean of despair, or in the airless basement of a burnt out building. There are flashes of radiance there, too, sometimes burning through the crackle of rain sounds, but mostly staying behind a haze, a muffled euphoria remaining at a distance. Untrue articulates the thrill and the dread of being. The exposed outer threshold of humanity. Clawing at the rolling skies of existence.
William Emmanuel Bevan, operating under the stage alias Burial, is a dubstep artist from South London. Until 2008 he was completely anonymous, and even now, one of the only photos of him on the internet is a selfie from Myspace.
In an era where PR and advertising are virtually injected into the drinking water, this is important. Amongst the Instagrammers and the publicity hounds of the post 2000 generation, he is an outlier. It’s a testament to the music. Bevan doesn’t need to plug his album in the tabloid pages in order to sell records, or spout some art-inspiring trauma to Jonathan Ross on terrestrial television.
But more importantly, it makes the art fluid and malleable. Without a prescribed meaning stuffed down your gullet, you are free to interpret the work as you like, bringing a fresh solution on each listen, responding with new feelings and sensations. ‘Burial’ exists solely as a name or a symbol on an album cover, creating no contextual impediment to the listener.
Growing up in South London, the essence of his music is in the deserted bus stations and on the tube platforms of the capital at night. There is an absence in the album; a suspended state of unfulfillment, and an ambient grief.
‘In McDonalds’ feels like a solo walk through places like these, brought temporarily out of a solitary stupor by the synthetic lights of a fast food shop. The vocals “once upon a time it was you I adored” makes a vague tribute to lost love, but rather contributes to the total atmosphere of unrealised feeling. This is an Aaliyah sample, reshaped into something moving but not quite comforting.These are the voices of suburban despair: faceless, barely human, but strangely powerful. You are surrounded by the clear skinned faces of the celebrity cyber beings on the sides of the double decker bus, or the posters of the tube elevators. Made up, photoshopped, and rendered sterile enough for meaningless mass consumption.
One of the trademark sounds of the album is these cut up and distorted vocals. His source material is the idealised vibrations of American Pop and R&B. The voices of the silver screen and the red carpet. He chops it into incoherent fragments, pitching it up and down, ripping it from its original context. He turns it into something robotic, cyber voices with only a whiff of humanity. Beyoncé, Usher, D’Angelo, all snatched from their mass marketed product and transfigured into remote cyber angels.
These voices sound distant, speaking to you from an environment worlds away, resembling nothing of your own. This is the effect of the fuzz and the crackle on the album; the murk that the sounds are marinated in and forever hidden behind.
The sound of a lighter clicking appears in the background of every track. It clicks and clicks, failing to turn the sparks into a flame. This is the underlying feeling of the album: being suspended in these deserted urban spaces — vacuums of meaning — and settling into a state of impotence and unfulfillment.
Image from Wikimedia Commons