ALBUMS: Antidawn Renews Burial’s Sense of Purpose

Will Bevan’s strangest release in a decade is also the best — if you give it time

Burial (Image: Hyperdub)

Burial can do better. But most anyone else can’t.

Catch me at the right time (probably 4am on a Tuesday) and I may admit that the 2007-2013 output of the once-anonymous meme machine-cum-producer of grayscale electronica has no equals in any genre. (At less crazy hours the GOAT is clearly Sonic Youth.) 

Untrue was an instant classic, no memory of why it was lumped in with something new called dubstep, though it did sound a lot more like “dub” meets “two-step” than the actual sound termed dubstep did, with its flattened rhythms and squealing-siren drops.  Will Bevan to this day hasn’t made an album since, though you can make arguments for the essential package Tunes 2011-2019 and the piece of this occasion, the 43-minute Antidawn “EP.”

The rest of his last decade is all EPs too, the first bunch a murderer’s row: Street Halo, Kindred, Truant/Rough Sleeper, and Rival Dealer. They might as well be your Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde and John Wesley Harding of danceable downtempo bricolage epics. I suppose that would make Antidawn Burial’s Blood on the Tracks but it’s nowhere near as immediate or satisfying as his best work. Instead it’s merely his most captivating release in nearly a decade and easily his most difficult to figure out.

Artist: Burial

Album: Antidawn  

Label: Hyperdub Records 

★★★★ (4/5 stars) 

It ain’t dance music, and from where I’m standing, far too disruptive and decentered to be anyone’s idea of ambient either. It’s no gradual progression from his other recent work because he’s been all over the place post-peak: Young Death/Nightmarket and Subtemple/Beachfires were his most minimalist works ever, and they were followed by Shock Power of Love and Chemz/Dolphinz, which contained some of his most traditional dance music. Antidawn sounds like none of it, or rather anything Burial’s done before. What it sounds like is as if he half-ascended to the next chapter of his career and got stuck between worlds and this is the jumbled radio static coming from both sides of the portal at once. It’s every bit as intriguing and infuriating as you can imagine. Some of his other records really move and take you places on these gloomy unlit dusk tours. Antidawn feels like you’re just sitting there and it’s happening to you. Which has its itchy thrills.

Haters have a point; for one thing, the titles (“Strange Neighborhood,” “New Love,” “Shadow Paradise,” “Upstairs Flat,” and the title track) are the artist’s least evocative to date, and certainly not becoming of his most challenging record. But they also reflect the project’s vagueness too well. “Strange Neighborhood,” the longest and least grounded thing here, flits between so many snatches of verité that any bits that really surface to the ear present more as clues than melodies. Run them through your brain a few times though and they’ll function as…well, not hooks. But familiar images.

There’s the windy, squeaky recurring voice that sounds like Mbuti pygmy chanting alternated with a burst of orchestral punctuation like something off of Spring Heel Jack’s uncompromising 1997 Busy Curious Thirsty. There’s the rattling bell-like percussion snatch that brings Oval’s loopy 94diskont to mind. Around the two-minute mark there’s an effect from an old video game. Occasionally there’s another voice, another glitch, a sudden, brief sheet of white noise that could be rainfall. Burial’s almost playing with a Lynchian level of delicacy here, stretching the sensibility of sonic memory as far as it will go by linking these discrete samples that never coalesce. After the five-minute mark you hear a desolate, pitched-up swath of singing that actually sounds like Burial. But digging it out of all the red herrings feels futile.

Burial Antidawn, Hyperdub Records 2022

“Antidawn” delves even further into white noise and the musique concrete with blankets of tape hiss and feedback obscuring a nice little broken synth line off in the distance. At times the overwhelming background noise feels like an alien chainsaw, but it’s a feature not a bug. Once you stop straining to hear the glue on this thing, its varying harshnesses fall into something like place. “Shadow Paradise” drops an anvil on the end of its predecessor with disjointed talking, synths like power drills, and finally something akin to dance music, albeit the “Idioteque” fringe of the term, not that we should expect differently from Burial. The remaining two tracks finish Antidawn off with one of those glowing climaxes that can only be described as, like, fireworks in a sewer gutter or some such. It’s one of his patented drab-into-brightness codas like Kindred’s “Ashtray Wasp,” though it’s never that simple with Will Bevan; you’ll swear you just heard a Mariachi trumpet on “Upstairs Flat.”

My reference points for Antidawn — the Tazmanian Devil whirlwind of Death Grips’ Gmail and the Restraining Orders, the scrambled static that closes off Frank Ocean’s Blonde, maybe more fragmented DJ Shadow or Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica — I’m told by an ambient-expert friend are way off-base. But strictly ambient music is rarely as rich or confounding as prime Burial, which I’m increasingly convinced this may be, with certainly fewer puzzles to solve. The joy of listening to this guy is only partially his virtual-reality game schtick, the anonymous identity, the gloomy landscapes, signature motifs like crumpled crackling. It’s that you can hear the mystery in his music just as loud and clear as the surrounding effect. You can sleep, fuck, dance to him.

But Antidawn renews Burial’s sense of purpose, the feeling that your ear is looking for the right lopsided brick to push in and reveal a whole secret library of new paths.


AUDIO: Burial Antidawn (full EP)

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Ted Miller

Ted Miller is trying to collect the head of every Guns ‘n Roses’ guitarist for his rec room. He currently has three.

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