This week, a bit sad post-Christmas, tingling with ambient Covid dread and a bit knackered from New Year’s Eve, I’ve mainly been listening to the new Burial record, ANTIDAWN; amazingly, its familiar blend of rainy, minor-key textures and forlorn-sounding field recordings hasn’t really cheered me up.
Setting my self-indulgent moping aside for a minute though, this is a spacious, desolate return for William Bevan; it requires a fair bit of patience, but repeated listens reveal passages of spine-tingling beauty once you’ve adjusted to its glacial pace. Initially, we seem to be in classic Burial territory, the faraway chords and vinyl crackle soaking us through from the outset, but there are are subtle innovations lighting up the gloomiest corners of this release (like many recent-ish Burial projects, it’s technically an EP, but with the length and ambition to basically count as an album): the uncharacteristically clear, heartfelt vocals of ‘Shadow Paradise’; the creaking, ceremonial organ progressions that drive ‘Strange Neighbourhood’; ‘New Love’s occasional snatches of weirdly straightforward Chicago-y drum machines, seemingly playing out from inside that parked car across the road with its windows steamed up. We remain in the pallid, early-hours South London of so many Burial records, but there’s a remarkable sense of clearer air, of physical space; it’s as if we’ve walked through the spiralling overpasses and dim-lit streets of the dense inner city and jumped the fence into Burgess Park – wide, open, beautiful, and built on ruins.
Of course, Burial has explored pure, percussion-free ambience plenty of times before – Untrue’s ‘UK’ is an early-career highlight, and newer tracks like ‘State Forest’ are cathedral-like in their washy grandiosity – but never with such a degree of intricacy or sheer temporal commitment. The slow, lengthy understatement of ANTIDAWN probably means it won’t win over any Burial agnostics, or do much for those who primarily flock to his work in search of his inimitable, naturalistic beatmaking, but for the die-hards, there’s much to love here if you’re willing to stick with it. Perhaps that’s a reason to be cheerful after all.
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