Sunday, January 27, 2008

More Stuff I Slept On: Burial, "Untrue"

One problem with not living in a major music hub is that it's not so easy to go out and find music, rather, I have to wait for music to come to me. Opportunities for "discovering" something myself are simply far less numerous, and in it's place, I find myself reacting to the music that other people track down, promote, and write about. I don't relish this more passive role. A couple of years ago, I might have sincerely argued that anyone with a high speed internet connection would have the resources at the their disposal to discover, acquire, evaluate, and promote all the music they would ever need. It *is* possible to do all that from the comfort of your desk at home, but it requires a lot more time and effort compared with making trips to quality music stores, reading the new release lists, flipping through CD and vinyl racks, and checking out new bands at live shows. Not to mention that the stay-at-home process is a lot less fun -- not really surprising, since most people prefer to leave the house than to stay at home.

I used to hate opening newspapers and seeing writers dismissively refer to some new band or scene as the latest dud in a long line of overhyped British fads. I haven't turned into that curmudgeonly type (at least I hope not) but more and more, I find myself shying away from hype, and not for any good reason. It's a lot easier to do that when you're writing in relative isolation, away from any place where said music would be unavoidable. The only way to actually hear that music is to spend the time to track it down yourself, and sometimes curiosity is trumped by simply not wanting to open up new musical cans of worms, and sticking with whatever is already on your plate.

I know slightly more than jack about dubstep, but I've been hesitant to get involved with it because there are too many similarities to drum and bass -- a genre that I have never been able to embrace. For similar reasons, grime never resonated with me either. I love dark, twisted, psychotic sounds, but once intimidation and roughness is added to the mix (and not even necessarily through lyrics), I start losing interest. "Urban decay" = good, "cornered in a dark alley while somebody yells at me" = not as good. I want to feel a sense of tension in the music, but not stemming from external fear imposed on me. I'm more interested in internal fear, the feeling you get from being lost in the dark as your mind plays tricks on you even if nobody else is around.

Burial's "Untrue" is virtually a sequel to one of my favourite albums, Plastikman's "Closer". It's not menacing or intimidating, but it grinds you down all the same by suffocating you in a slow, deliberate manner. The mood is enhanced by many beatless, ambient interludes, although they occur so frequently that perhaps that word is misleading. The ambient parts are central to the bleak outlook of the album as a whole. They draw out the misery, enhancing it to the point of near-saturation. When the album finishes, it's usually these ambient, deceptively gentle parts that stick in my head, as opposed to any of the beats. In grime and dubstep, I often conjure up images of people (lurking in rain-soaked alleys), but Burial's version of slime-drenched loneliness is devoid of humanity. The walls around me are crumbling, disintegrating before my eyes but it turns out that nobody was ever on the other side, except for more thick dust and musty air.

Like with "Closer" ("I Don't Know"), "Untrue" concludes with one final, 4/4 flourish ("Raver"), pumping out a beat so groovy that it almost spurs a sense of optimism, before one pauses, remembers what album you've been listening to, and understands that it's all going to fall apart by the end.

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