Burial Anti-dawn opens with such a subtle sound, if instinctive, you might miss it the first half a dozen times: harrump of a throat clearing. But no opening line or explanatory statement materializes in its wake. Instead, a thousand shades of gray rush to fill the void. In the background, a blunt stylus weaves its way endlessly through a dusty vinyl rut, the Sisyphus Loop that carries all of Burial’s music. The chimes twinkle in the dark; a weak wind is blowing. In the distance, a voice faintly reminiscent of Gregorian chant flares up and goes out, like a votive in a nave full of drafts. Almost a full minute passes before we hear the next melody-like thing – a brief snippet of a voice plaintively singing “You came around my way” – but its appearance is fleeting, followed only by more. empty.
Across five tracks, Burial unfolds like this for nearly 44 minutes, teasing impending emotional gain, then falling back into obscurity. This is his longest offer since 2007 False– long enough to be considered his long-awaited third album, had he chosen to call it that. But it’s also the London musician’s most insignificant outing, apparently on purpose. The music simply winds, drifting through stray synthesizers, snippets of vocals, and Burial’s usual diegetic sound effects – coughs, light thumps, crickets, thunder, rain – cut off from all context. There are few musical cues and few recognizable forms of composition. Above all, there are almost no drums. Not the two-step rhythms that have defined Burial’s work from the very beginning. Not the roaring trance and techno impulses that have crept into songs like “Space Cadet” lately. Not even the soft and rhythmic grooves of a ballad like “Her Revolution” or “His Rope”. (The notable exception: a brief sequence of muted bass drums, halfway through “New Love,” whose thud is reminiscent of Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS project.) Anti-dawn is a barren wasteland, warmed only by the occasional church organ or a dismal piece of love song.
This is not the first time that Burial has put his drums on mute. He did it on “Nightmarket” in 2016, a strange collage of rhythmless synth melodies and statics that marked a significant break with the harsh “Temple Sleeper”. The following year, the spacious “Subtemple” and “Beachfires” descended deeper into the cold regions of the ambient music, and he again went underwater caving with “Dolphinz,” a nine-minute stretch of wails of cetaceans and ominous sub-bass drone. In the ambient corner of Burial’s work, what distinguishes Anti-dawn, beyond its extreme spread, is the chorus of glued voices that hold together its expanse swept by the wind of undulating nothingness. Mainly sung rather than spoken, these sampled utterances unite around the themes of absence, desire and discomfort.
“Hold me,” pleads a voice in the opening “Strange Neighborhood”; “Nowhere to go,” another mutters, before a third responds, “Walk these streets.” “Shadow Heaven” deploys plea after plea: “Let me hold you”; “Come to me my love”; “Take me into the night. Looks like Burial has gone through his record collection and put together all the tracks where a singer begins a verse with little to no accompaniment, except maybe one quavering synth. Particularly on the “Upstairs Flat” fence, the cumulative effect is like a love letter written in fading ink, the story reduced to a few brushstrokes: “You came my way”; “Somewhere in the darkest night”; “When you are alone”; “I am here.” Against the ticking of a grandfather clock and a few dismal notes of a muted trumpet, the record ends with a scrambled plea that looks a lot like “Come bury me”, a fitting cornerstone for this intensely interior EP.
East Anti-dawn a powerful distillation of Burial’s aesthetic, or a caricature of it? I hesitate between these two evaluations. Few artists are so indebted to their stylistic tics as Burial; by all rights he should have gotten into a corner a long time ago, but he kept things interesting by splashing out some garish colors and jarring details – the gospel house of “Dark Gethsemane”, the acid-trance arpeggios of “Chemz” – on its decidedly grayscale palette. Anti-dawn leaves no room for this kind of surprise. Instead, he doubles down on his signature sounds and decidedly downcast mood; its melancholy is so pervasive that it risks being sucked into a tearful surf.
However, if you are in the mood to submit to its charm, Anti-dawn can exert powerful traction. Burial never showed great fidelity to the squared regularity of most contemporary electronic music – he claimed to create his first songs using rudimentary audio editors that lacked the quantified precision of music software. advanced music composition – and Anti-dawn moves further than ever from the conventional musical meter. Even with the almost complete absence of drums, however, a different kind of rhythm begins to take hold. Despite the music’s apparent lack of purpose, these synths, vocals, sound effects, and pockets of silence are carefully paced; they are added to a sort of ebb and flow, a coming and going as natural as breathing.
In recent years, Burial has increasingly attempted to escape the linearity of dance music by assembling pieces of songs into multi-part suites. With Anti-dawn, he makes the most of this technique; every track is riddled with fakes, fake ends and traps. In this sense, despite the heaviness of the record, there is something playful in Anti-dawn. Burial’s relentless refusal to deliver anything like closing suggests a sour sense of humor, Beckett’s musical equivalent Waiting for Godot. I always come back to that cough at the beginning of the record, and to the curious feeling of absence that it signals. I imagine a portrait painter clearing his throat and abandoning the scene: all that remains is the mottled velvet background, yet the painter persists. The background becomes the foreground; the artist’s private obsessions – ruminant, claustrophobic, perhaps even alienating – swell to fill the frame.
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