Only a few short years ago, the rise of grime’s angsty and artful MCs forced dubstep into the shadows. Locked away like a clubland Kaspar Hauser, this immersive, instrumental branch of London’s hardcore family tree seemed destined to wither and die. However, this period in the wilderness brought about a transformation that few could have predicted. Trading depth for crowd-pleasing bass pressure, dubstep has now sidelined its mouthy younger brother, becoming one of electronic music’s greatest home-turf success stories and gathering a network of international fans. Still, given the scene’s road to recognition, it seems fitting that its biggest star should be a shadowy presence who shuns the press, refuses to play live, and conceals his true identity from all but his closest friends.
Burial is also an anomaly to the movement he’s identified with. While others compete in an ongoing search for the perfect dance-floor beat, this anonymous producer made his name last year with a captivating eponymous album of crackly, corroded home-listening music. In many ways, Untrue, his second full-length recording, covers similar terrain. Like 2step left out in the rain to warp and pockmark, it’s a post-rave sound in both macro and micro context, the faded textures of “Archangel” soaked in dreamlike nostalgia for the culture’s past while perfectly capturing the end of last night’s party—the room deserted, the ghost of good times hanging misty in the air.
All of Burial’s trademark tics and flourishes remain in place: snippets of video games, cigarette lighters, and other found sounds still flitting around the mix, and the programming as rough-hewn as ever. Where Untrue differs is an increased emphasis on vocals and a shift from dystopian melancholy to restrained optimism. While the percussion-free “Endorphin” and “Dog Shelter” paint haunting pictures of isolation and heartache, a warm and generous humanity runs just beneath the surface. It’s this quality that lends the propulsive woodblock throb of the closing “Raver” its muted euphoria, and makes it easy to believe that, while the streets of any city can be cold and lonely, everything is going to be alright.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 13, 2007