Release Date: Dec 6, 2019
Record label: Hyperdub
Don't rush me, I'll get at you when I get at you Those words, uttered by HBO's The Wire's Marlo Stanfield, and lifted from the penultimate juncture of 2011's Street Halo and dropped at the completion of this time traveling assortment bring with them an even more knowing wink of mirth. William Bevan, now more playing as Burial than being Burial, for all his reticence and intent on making music solely and squarely on his terms has to be aware of the patience his fan base has endured as he's spent the last decade maneuvering and hiding from any kind of dialogue that might point to the long-fabled and much-heralded Third LP. And while enduring that wait in real time has felt like an endurance run with minimal return, Tunes 2011-2019 might, upon reflection, reveal that in the absence of any substantial long form narrative, Bevan has spent the last 9 years in a state of innovatory and advantageous state of flux.
Burial's first two full-lengths, particularly the 2007 masterpiece Untrue, cast an enormous shadow over the music of the 2010s, as countless producers tried to emulate the rain-soaked atmospheres and heavy emotions of the elusive South Londoner's tracks. While he didn't release a proper third album during the decade (nor did he express any intention of doing so), he pushed his sound further with a series of sporadically issued singles and EPs, and remained one of the most vital artists of the era. Tunes 2011-2019 gathers two-and-a-half hours' worth of his material from this time period, excluding 2017's club-friendly "Rodent," collaborations with the likes of Four Tet and Massive Attack, a few scattered compilation cuts, and all of his non-Hyperdub releases.
William Bevan is a man of few words, both in his music and in real life. The few lyrics that find their way onto his tracks are always sampled, often from arbitrary sources: David Lynch films, disposable mid-2000s R&B (e.g., Ray J's One Wish), and interviews with NASA scientists are among a handful of examples. These vocals are often manipulated, truncated, and pitch-shifted to a point where they're sometimes barely recognizable as human.
Over a decade ago, Burial came down to us, mapped a blueprint for a sound, and perfected it. But what followed his remarkable 2006 self-titled debut and the glorious 2007 follow-up Untrue was mostly silence--or, if we were fortunate, the odd collaboration. It looked as if Burial might have said all he intended to. With tabloid newspapers launching campaigns to unmask the then-faceless producer, online communities scrutinizing any breadcrumbs in the trail, and a transfixed music world gazing at him like an oracle, Burial was probably left asking himself whether this was the life he wanted after all.
T he nights are drawing in and the weather outside is frightful, so it's the time of year to reach for an old favourite - no, not just Michael Bublé but Burial, the south London producer whose tracks remain the perfect accompaniment to a moody illicit joint in the snow at your parents' house over Christmas; the sound of cloud covering a 4pm dusk. His two albums in 2006 and 2007 caused a sensation with their spectral, sentimental inversions of speed garage, jungle, R&B and grime. Muffled and haloed in static, and coming from an anonymous creator, they invited whimsical interpretation: were these snatches of ghost pirate radio, as if transmitting from the Mary Celeste? The dream-memories of a sleeping raver 50 years hence? Unmasked as Will Bevan in 2008, Burial has never released another full-length, but rather a steady series of 12-inch releases that are collected and resequenced over two CDs here (well, most of them - there is no room, sadly, for straightforwardly raving tracks such as the deep house roller Rodent or techno beast Indoors).
It's difficult to know what to make of Tunes 2011 To 2019, a compilation that seems to have been created based on a couple of assumptions. One is that there's a group of people out there who would like 17 previously released Burial tracks on CD. The second assumption seems to be that it's a good time for a survey of Will Bevan's work. With Hyperdub currently rounding out its 15th anniversary year and Burial being one of the most visionary artists of recent times, there might be something in this.
In a 2007 article for The Wire, Mark Fisher wrote that Burial's 2006 debut was "a vivid audio portrait of a wounded South London, a semi-abstract sound painting of a city's disappointment and anguish." With twelve years of hindsight, I'd amend that statement: it was a vivid audio portrait of an entire generation's disappointment and anguish. In 2006 and '07, the years of Burial's first two album releases, I was at university in Tucson, Arizona. I was studying philosophy and art history, trying my hand at various creative disciplines both literary and visual, strung out on (hard) drugs, and alienated.