The voices in Burial’s songs always seem to be gasping from the edges of pure longing. Lengthy and murky as they are, these movements usually pass as something more sterile than love songs: the scrounged-up debris of dance music collaged into arty, cerebral post-dub. But the shadowy English producer rarely shies from the hint of a romantic subject, a “you” he traces with phrases salvaged from his underground record collection. On Rival Dealer, the newest in a steady trickle of short releases on Hyperdub, Burial crashes past the angst that’s flooded his music to date.
Chasing the exceptionally steady Truant / Rough Sleeper almost exactly one year after its release, Rival Dealer first digs its heels into William Bevan’s demonic streak. Side A’s title track wafts a perforated female vocal (“I’m going to love you more than anyone”—half promise, half threat) through a bristly knot of drums and static. A buzz saw bass drones over Burial’s trademark click-and-clatter. The same screech that pierced the hypnagogic mist of 2011’s “Four Walls” needles in through the wall of noise. This is Burial modeling his signature form—and then, just like that, he breaks it.
“Come Down To Us” dances a milky synth arpeggio around a sitar riff while voices multiply, fighting to be heard. “Don’t be afraid,” someone reassures in an alien ripple. Then, a little past the halfway point, it gets glittery. Christmas bells and pop melodies burst through the squelch of voices. Burial’s still dealing in shadow and echo here, but for the first time he’s harnessing them for what sounds a lot like joy.
Not only is this the first, well, happy Burial song, it’s also the only one to feature substantial text. Bevan streaks language through his work in whispers and coughs; until now, he’d shied away from the proclamatory sampling indulged by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. But at the end of “Come Down to Us”, someone speaks, sentence after sentence, undistorted. Someone, a transgender person, confesses that they have finally learned to believe that they are not broken, not wrong, not a freak. They finally know that they are worthy of being loved.
“You don’t have to be alone,” sings one of Burial’s anonymous proxies on Rival Dealer’s third and final track. Coming from an artist who has rendered loneliness so expertly in the past, it’s a transformative, hopeful gesture. Burial has always carved love stories from the shadows. On Rival Dealer, he blasts light onto the heavy struggle toward self-love.
Essential Tracks: “Come Down To Us”, “Hiders”