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5/10/2006

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Burial: Messing Your Brain on the Google Image Search Good-Like


I'm awoken from a rather unexpected dormancy on the blog to talk about the Burial album, which seems to be warming the loins of the hauntology crowd lately.

Burial, more than any other album in the hauntology scheme, is about time. K-Punk suggested that "Burial is haunted by what once was, what could have been, and - most keeningly - what could still happen." My own personal difficulty connecting with the rave/'ardkore/2-step/dubstep/the British dance underground has actually enhanced that response rather than dampened it. K-Punk also used the word "elegy"; my experience is like being at a stranger's funeral--a mourning without roots, an experience that actually has plenty more to do with your present than a past you never actually had.

So then, "elegy" almost seems improper becuase even if the experience conceptually relies on the past, that past can never make itself fully manifest or understood (otherwise it wouldn't haunt). So, like in Ariel Pink's 60s pop specters or Ghost Box's library music collage, we get a heavy referent for the music we're hearing, but one that always flickers at the horizons or has just left the room.

Burial, though, is the most vivid of the "hauntology" releases precisely because time becomes acute, rather than smeared or fucked-with (not to mention the urgency and presence of RHYTHM). When I saw Digital Mystikz some months back, I remember thinking about the obvious draw of reggae imagery/rhetoric for the dubstep crowd--doomsaying. You don't have to look much past the fact that "dread" is a compliment to realize that a lot of reggae's darkest glory comes from its fear that the world is always sliding further into dystopia, and it's a feeling that dubstep's frantic drum vortexes seem keen on making really goddamn explicit. (Incidentally Burial is being released on Hyperdub, whose founder, Kode 9, very appropriately covered "Ghost Town"--chew on it).

So Burial, in feeling tender or afraid or just generally preoccupied with both the past and the future, seems much more straightforward and readily affecting than some of the other things that have come into the hauntology mix. And the really off-putting thing about it is how mellow it makes entropy sound; there's very little agitation and the music is rebelliously imprecise at times (Burial apparently doesn't use a sequencer, another interesting factor in the "reanimation" aspect of sample culture--he's not interested in squaring all this audio away perfectly). Off-putting upon off-putting: the future's going to be completely rotted out. And we're going to feel just cool about it.

So it's redundant to say it's a sad album, because you could've guessed that; honestly, despite their obvious differences, I bet you could hoof it from Luomo's Vocalcity to the future sound of London in Burial; both albums derive their emotional resonance from their ability to draw emotions into view but remain detached from them. Yearning vocals roam in darkness because Burial ultimately leaves searchlights off; glints come from unknown, improbable sources. Really, one of the most forcefully lonely albums I've heard in a while.

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