Monthly Review: Burial – Untrue


Lawrence Lan, Music Columnist

When you think of electronic music, what immediately comes to mind? Ride music? Club music? The Chainsmokers?

In the mid-2000’s, certain electronic music artists in Europe, whose mission was to make more imaginative, substantial, and impassioned electronic music, blossomed. You could say it started with the blossoming of IDM and Aphex Twin’s huge contributions back in the mid to late 90’s, but he disappeared after 2001’s Drukqs, and wouldn’t return for another 14 years. Nonetheless, Drukqs, Squarepusher’s Big Loada, and The Avalanches’ Since I Left You set the tone for electronic music to come, with the latter proving that sampling music could lead to an extroadinary artform of its own. Later on in the 2000’s, albums like The Knife’s Silent Shout and, lesser so, The Streets’ Original Pirate Material, brought UK-garage, techno, dubstep, and two-step beats and into a darker, moodier, and more emotional tone, with more mainstream success than usual. However, you could say the person who set the movement on fire, creatively and defiantly, was Burial.

Burial’s first two albums defined the sound of UK-dubstep, and paved the way for artists like James Blake to come in the future. (James Blake is known for his electronic/R&B works, but he started out, and gained major spotlight, as a dubstep artist.) He started his work on Hyperdub Records (which he is still signed to today), and released three EP’s and his self-titled debut full-length. All are masterful works and are worth checking out, but his next record would be the culmination of innovation and his previous works.

Burial’s sophomore album, Untrue, came out in 2007, and, although many electronic albums had hinted toward this sound, none had quite sounded like this release before. Take a look at the second track, Archangel, for example. Burial takes Ray J, out of all singers to sample, and pitches his voice up to sound like an alien venting to the moon. The layered synth waves, reverb, static woosh, and the dubstep percussion make for a beautiful atmosphere, and Burial structures the song to be one of his most accessible and instantaneous tunes. With this track, you see what you’re getting into for the rest of the record.

There are experiments and breaks from the dubstep groove of Ghost Hardware or the title track- there’s three ambient interludes, Endorphin, In McDonald’s, and UK, some of the best songs on the album. They’re presented with the same personal but cosmic emotions and the same pitched-up and reverbed sampled vocals, synth bass and motifs, and percussion and electronic trinklets. However, when the groove isn’t as strong and the music can exhale and space out, the tracks are that much more moving. Other tracks include Shell of Light, which starts out more minimal with the atmosphere and the looped drum pattern. However, Burial incorporates structural change-ups and electronic sound experiments, and the track develops and progresses to be one of the more dynamic tracks on the album. Homeless, which has a stronger groove and a more aggressive synth loop – overall the track is more direct and it has less of a nebulous vibe. Lastly, Etched Headplate, a personal favorite, has a slower tempo and a less apparent groove, but it has the same spacey and hazy quality and the same cooler color palette set on a dark background. The chord progression and the layered vocals on this track are particularly beautiful and meditative.

I genuinely think that there is something special and powerful in electronic music – it speaks to your innermost, darkest, most stranded and most desolate emotions and thoughts. You simply can’t get the same mood and the atmosphere that electronic music brings with traditional, acoustic instruments. Moreover, electronic music seems to bring a different world than traditional instruments bring – that string instruments can get to but without the soul – worlds that are more spacey, ethereal, and dark. Burial knows this best – he said in an interview, “It’s more about when you come back from being out somewhere; in a minicab or a night bus, or with someone, or walking home across London late at night, dreamlike, and you’ve still got the music kind of echoing in you, in your bloodstream, but with real life trying to get in the way. I want it to be like a little sanctuary. It’s like that 24-hour stand selling tea on a rainy night, glowing in the dark. It’s pretty simple.” Untrue gives a place for your inner self to expel, and evaporate. If you’re looking for obsidian skies and a chilly purple and blue cloudy haze at 2 am, a river with lights flowing along the coast, creepy and desolate streets, and a city you just arrived at where you don’t know the language, let this be your soundtrack, and enjoy the solitude – and the sound.*