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12 years later: Burial’s self-titled album

Sam Mwakasisi, Opinion Editor

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Burial.

It’s a name you may not be familiar with, but it belongs to one of the most iconic and influential producers in underground electronic music. Today, Burial’s self-titled debut album turns 12, and I’d like to bestow the due honor for the album that I don’t see too frequently online.

Whenever Burial is discussed online, it’s usually in tandem with his 2007 sophomore album, Untrue, which has received a far more pronounced seat in the pantheon of electronic music than his debut. I’m not saying Burial wasn’t acclaimed; it too was greeted with ample applause upon release, being ranked on lists of the best albums of the year, the decade, and of all time. Burial has just received far less fanfare, although I personally enjoy the album way more.

Who is Burial?

Burial is essentially the Banksy of the electronic music world, with an anonymity as famous as his music. I’m not just saying he doesn’t use social media; only two good photos of him exist on the Internet, he’s never played a concert, and he only sparingly accepts interviews.

The mastermind behind the music is now known as William Emmanuel Bevan from South London, UK, but it was only revealed after six years of complete obscurity. This time culminated in a vehement (manhunt) in 2008 that only ended once Bevan stepped in himself to quell the theories and hoaxes flying around.

Even then, he introduced himself to the world in an incredibly humble manner. “I wanted to be unknown because I just want it to be all about the tunes,” Bevan said on his MySpace. “Over the last year, the unknown thing became an issue so I’m not into it anymore. […] I’m a low-key person and I just want to make some tunes.”

How is Burial organized?

With 11 tracks bookended by a short intro and outro–both of which are officially untitled–Burial uses its 50-minute runtime to create an enthralling journey.

Each track flows perfectly into the next and additively contributes to painting a portrait of a city after hours, while also contributing to an unspoken dread resting beneath the music. The songs connect themselves far more through emotion than a storyline, only nodding at a concrete narrative in passing.

How does Burial sound?

A known repertoire across all Burial music is Bevan’s idiosyncratic technique of sampling from other musical works. On Burial, everything from small snippets of film dialogue to distorted vocals from Destiny’s Child and Ashanti are worked into the mix.

Most of the album lends itself to a uniform sound that Bevan summarizes as “raw, rolling drums and sub [bass]”. This sensation of rolling thoroughly permeates Burial, as Bevan’s unorthodox beats don’t swing and groove as much as they rumble and slither. However, some of the most intriguing moments on Burial come in the ambient interludes–“Night Bus” and “Forgive”–which act as momentary reprieves from the disquieting atmosphere.

Burial differs from Untrue in that it boasts a much rawer sound, evoking sensations that I find lost within the relatively sanitary sound of Untrue. The album’s mix is unapologetically dirty, and sounds are often nested within falling rain or popping static.

However, don’t mistake the muddying of the atmosphere to the muddying of the sound. The album is mastered to perfection, and every sample and piece of percussion hits perfectly.

What makes Burial special?

Burial is painfully, beautifully self-aware.

A key to unlocking the mystery behind Burial is found in “Gutted”, the album’s eighth track. Although it’s not the exact middle of the album, I consider it to be the centerpoint due to how perfectly it sets the album’s ethos.

The song centers around a sample from the film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, culling dialogue from a specific scene in which Forest Whitaker gives the following advice to Isaach De Bankole: “We’re from..different ancient tribes, and now..we’re both almost extinct. But sometimes…you gotta stick with the ancient ways. The old-school ways. I know you understand me.”

What exactly are “the old-school ways”?

Through Burial, Bevan’s music ran on one mentality: make what you know. Bevan was practically raised by the UK rave scene, becoming an aficionado of the genres of drum-and-bass, jungle, and garage. At the time of the release of Burial, the same rave movement that birthed Bevan was fading in relevance from the public eye. As a result, the album is consciously crafted as a dark, introspective eulogy to his masters.

It’s this endless, fundamental humility that gives the otherworldly sonic ideas presented on Burial a striking human essence. I’ve always considered Untrue to be the more conventional and “safe”-sounding of Burial’s two albums, but Burial succeeds the most in the depths of its vulnerability.

Featured image from Hyperdub Records

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12 years later: Burial’s self-titled album