ALBUM: Rival Dealer
Prior to the release of Rival Dealer, the elusive and low-key Burial (who remained anonymous until 2008, even after two highly-acclaimed releases) came out with a public message on the BBC Radio 6 show, stating that he was making “anti-bullying tunes that could maybe help someone to believe in themselves, to not be afraid, and to not give up and to know that someone out there cares and is looking out for them.” On one hand, this rare appearance and vocal assertion of a certain theme behind the upcoming EP only adds to the revered artist’s enigmatic persona - but on the other, it’s a fitting segue into a project that’s a beautiful diversion from his much darker previous work.
Burial’s releases in the past have been self-explanatory, the grime and grit and insomnia of London seeping into every track. They came from a dark place in a quite guy who was known to purposefully spend endless night in his studio in order to translate this depravity onto wax through his now signature style of sample-driven, 2-step garage music. However, prefacing this release with that PSA of sorts was helpful in preparing fans of his work for something less wistful and almost, dare I say, celebratory. Rather than tackle the anti-bullying campaign of late with anger or rebellion or confrontational anthems, Burial focuses on the raw nature of individualism, and equality in it’s purest sense.
The first track, “Rival Dealer,” which is most reminiscent of his previous material, is laced with endearing samples that range from “I want to love you more than anyone” (Gavin DeGraw’s “More Than Anyone”) to Lord Finesse’s assertive “You know my motherfuckin’ style” - all meant to ease the burden of forced assimilation. It’s a largely frantic track, covered in muddled distortion, but it’s what Burial’s done so successfully ever since the days of Untrue. He manages to take the most obscure samples, like “Ashley’s Roachclip” by The Soul Searchers this time around, and warp them into becoming the backbone of an entire track. He could even sample a more well-known artist (Jimi Hendrix is in here there somewhere), but he’ll grab ambient noise, and, even then, meld that into his own vision with delicately altered and layered patterns.
As the first track closes with “I saw something come down to us,” and the rain starts pattering on “Hiders,” a change in atmosphere is finally evident. The assertive independence of “Rival Dealers” becomes almost a removed look at other people’s struggle with finding love and acceptance, while “Hiders” plays like a more personal ode to those same people. Sounding a bit like James Blake in the process, Burial looses much of the electronic influence for this short ballad and opens with the resonating “there’s a kid somewhere...” before diving into “I will always protect you” (Miguel’s “Adorn”). He tackles the topic with a more enlightened sense of understanding. Sonically, this is the most removed he’s ever been from his early material and almost serves as a bridge between the two different aesthetics, as the final track, “Come Down To Us” is a much more well-rounded experiment. “Hiders” is honest in it’s genre-shift and embraces the platform. Curiously, even the second track references “come down to us” in an almost otherworldly, siren-like fashion. It doesn’t take long to realize that Burial is perfect for this role of transcendent guardian.
Burial is trying to campaign for a freer thinking society, and the closing track drives this point home with assured yet still characteristically muted joy. “You are a star to me” seems to be the ultimate takeaway, and the driving force behind the entire record. Gone is the frantic nature of the first track - really the only one to incorporate the prominent past aesthetic - and instead, in its place, are melodic plucking strings and beautiful samples. Around the four minute mark there is a static warping ("don’t be afraid to step into the unknown") and it’s almost as if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s no climax, no explosion of repressed emotions or fruitless hatred. Instead it's just simple, soulful, drifting, claims of individualism - a disownment of the social structure that seemingly precludes every interaction in life and a celebration of us in the most basic form - as humans. The "other worlds" mentioned in the closing monologue may as well be referring to different spheres of intelligence that can see past the restrictive nature of judgement and superiority, i.e. bullying.
Lines such as “we’re not alone,” “I’ve been watching you” and the allusions to “come down to us” throughout the EP paint a surreal/alien canvas, with a distinct narrative voiced by Burial being the guiding light. With Rival Dealer, Burial has further cemented himself as not only a pioneer of the genre but a definitive staple of the culture as he continues to push the boundaries of what music can and can’t do - and what it can and can’t be.
“There’s a kid somewhere...”