Available on: Hyperdub EP
“If you watch a great film, you have a musical element to it, not just on the scoring, but in the way that the shots are edited – that has music and rhythm and time.” – Frank Ocean
It might seem strange to start a review of a Burial record with a quote from r’n'b singer Frank Ocean, but the relationship between film and music is at the forefront of the former’s new EP, Truant / Rough Sleeper. ‘Truant’ and ‘Rough Sleeper’ make up the only two tracks on the record, but they’re not songs in themselves: each consists of a succession of short beats / phases / scenes that emerge – sometimes slowly, sometimes suddenly – from a constant of radio static and vinyl crackle.
It’s an interesting move, but one that shouldn’t come as a surprise: not only has Burial been trying to expand his music into longer formations since his vinyl-only remixes of Massive Attack (and then on his Kindred EP from earlier in 2012), but Will Bevan never exactly focused on songs in the first place. His classic second album Untrue featured some individual corkers, most obviously ‘Archangel’, but it was an album that succeeded due to its overall ambience and structure, the way these golden moments (the drop on ‘Near Dark’, which jumps out from the shadows like a stranger from around a corner; ‘Endorphin”s chords, which emerge from the mist at the end of ‘Ghost Hardware’ like a angel from a burial in granite) slip and seep into each other. It was an album that succeeded as much because of its structure than its content, basically. Released as a set of standalone singles, Untrue would still sound unique, but wouldn’t be anywhere near as memorable.
In some ways, Truant / Rough Sleeper plays like that ultimate music cliche, the soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist, but actually means it (as opposed to what that phrase usually means, which is swelling synths, creepy Moog and no good hooks). There are some fantastic hooks on ‘Rough Sleeper’ in particular, some of Burial’s most affecting yet, with moments of tumbling chimes and delicate melodies that suggest that his collaborations with Four Tet have made a lasting impact on his solo work. They rarely last for long. The shorter ‘Truant”s structure is easier to get a handle on, and generally focuses on heavier pieces that absorb light in the same way that ‘Rough Sleeper’ has a habit of reflecting it.
There’s no real climax to this story – in fact, I’d argue that the most memorable parts of ‘Rough Sleeper’ are in its first half – but the way it cuts without conclusion implies that this is very much something to be continued. Like Untrue, it can slip by without you noticing it, but pay attention and the detail is magnificent, with panned tricks and translucent samples that can knock you for six.