Atmospheric beatmaster Burial caps off a decade of single and EP releases, personally programming this sprawling compilation in time for the Hyperdub label’s 15th anniversary. Since releasing his self-titled debut in 2006 and the acclaimed Untrue in 2007, Burial has stuck with a kind of lengthy EP release format. Here, all of last decade’s releases are presented on Tunes 2011–2019, in a handy compilation. Tasty split single collaborations with other producers such as Four Tet, Thom Yorke and Zomby do not appear here, so it’s a two and a half hour Burial odyssey.
Much of Burial’s music brings an atmosphere of spaciousness or desolation. You can easily picture the empty industrial landscapes the music conjures. His beats are restless and somewhat mechanical, suggesting the nervous energy of people trying to survive in many of the UK’s economically depressed, industrial areas. Yet there’s always a triumphant undercurrent of hope – of acknowledging individual suffering and then being transformed through it to something stronger.
The programming on 2011–2019 chooses a more linear path with moods, scrambling the time line of release dates in the process. The quietest tracks appear first, with things heating up in the beat department towards the end. Not that Burial ever gets too ‘beat crazy’ with his compositions, preferring instead to carefully frame more exuberant passages with thoughtful slower sections. The early tracks such as State Forest (a 2019 entry) and Beachfires start out with almost a whisper, or since there’s no vocals – more like a vaporous gas leak. The early tracks are so stripped back that even subtle changes in tone or the stray sound effect, such as a knock or the clicks on Subtemple, can seem epic.
Eventually when Night Market and Hiders appear, actual melodies and vocal samples start to distil from the viscous atmosphere of the tracks. Come Down To Us signals the beginning of the more well-known tracks from this compilation, and there’s an awful lot of classics here. Rival Dealer, Kindred, Rough Sleeper, Street Halo – to name some of the biggest tunes – are epic compositions, in length as well as their emotional impact. Hearing them again in this compilation gives them a fresh airing to better appreciate what Burial has accomplished in the last 10 years.
Many of these tracks contain multiple parts, but also don’t follow a set pattern from track to track. Often they seem to depict a narrative of sorts, similar to a night out: first a lounge session, then out on the footpath, on the dance floor then clambering into a car with a different tune on the stereo with a different vibe. For example, at 14 minutes long Rough Sleeper starts with soulful vocals over soft beats and tunes, but then after a few twists and turns, it kicks into something a bit more pacier by the end.
Another example with its subsonic bursts of sound, Truant sounds like a black submarine cruising near the bottom of the ocean, with only the deep hum of the engines moving the craft slowly forwards, but later in the track a spray of sunshine during surfacing, then engaging in a bit of surface-to-surface skirmish with more manic beats and bass lines. Listening to the compilation as a whole, it’s interesting to hear what parts belonged to what tracks at times.
Recent track Claustro gets positively, almost jarringly, disco, with a bouncy beat amidst some of the darker tracks. But then again – with Burial it’s not so much a disco tune per se, but rather the experience of hearing a disco track somehow. Perhaps this is the true genius of Burial’s tracks: to capture the feelings of experiencing a night of clubbing, the joyous potential of the pre-sessions, the trip of peaks, then the long rides home, and come downs. And throughout the long run time of Tunes, many, many moods are touched upon.
Taking in Tunes 2011-2019 in one big listen is a bit of a daunting task. If anything, the sombre tones and mood in Burial’s tunes can weigh heavy after a couple of hours. Nevertheless, the soul and narratives of overcoming adversity and redemption shine out through the grey clouds in the music. That all of this is compiled in one package is a nice gift to fans that have heard some or most of the tracks, but not all (myself included).
Regardless of whether Burial drops an album in the 2020s, the range of moods and ideas on Tunes 2011-2019 is testament to a producer who prefers to fly low to remain as anonymous as possible, yet has expanded his working methods and styles to communicate emotionally through his music to connect fellow raver souls out there, although one needn’t be an ex-raver to take in the emotional heft the music conveys. More generally, Burial’s music is a thing of twisted beauty to behold, with intricate beats, soul, sparse and deep bass lines, crackling atmospherics and original arrangements with interesting narrative arcs. A landmark release for a unique artist.