Burial, in recent years, has been welcomed to a secret society. It’s a beta boys club that hates the outside world, and its other members – Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada to name two – are few. That’s right, it’s the Society of Electronic Recluses Fawned Over By Total Fucking Nutjobs.
Let’s not beat about the bush, for every normal person who likes Boards of Canada, there are five who’ll send a magazine death threats for joking about their new album containing a tribute to Countdown. For every civilian who likes the odd jog to ‘Xtal’, there are twelve We Are The Music Makers worker bees who spend their days scouring YouTube for possible Aphex aliases and who’d rather die than not have Selected Ambient Works soundtrack their monthly glue comedowns. Burial gremlins are a pretty special breed themselves. They hound Hyperdub in their hundreds, crying “release ‘Speedball’!” and accusing the label of exploiting their god when they dare to sell t-shirts adorned with His Name. They take personal offense when Skrillex samples vinyl crackle, and are the only people on earth who don’t see the humour in track titles like ‘Dog Shelter’ and ‘In McDonalds’. And with Rival Dealer, his latest EP, Burial is finally ready to face their wrath.
Burial might have started off sounding like nobody else, but since his breakthrough record, 2008’s Mercury-nominated Untrue, he’s not exactly taken risks. Sure, the tracks got longer and more soundtracky, he worked with Massive Attack, and ‘Street Halo’ was a bit ravey, but generally Burial’s spent his post-Untrue years feeding cat-nip to kittens and watching them start Christmas number one campaigns. Which is why it’s so welcome that Rival Dealer not only sounds like a Christmas number one, but will surely be Burial’s most divisive record to date.
“This is who I am”, declares Rival Dealer’s title track before launching into torn-out, AraabMUZIK-style hellfire. Five minutes in, it recoils before snapping back with burnt-out techno – sure, there’s junglisms here and that bassline is straight out the Dillinja playbook, but it’s honestly closer to Neil Landstrumm’s fuck you 4×4 than any of yer ‘nuum darlings. Think that’s ballsy? Track two, ‘Hiders’, is the festive hit you never thought you’d hear Burial make. It’s The Snowman. It’s The Weeknd repented. It’s finally pulling the person you love at your end-of-year office party after twelve months of looks across the printer. It’s Dawn and Tim. Fuck the night bus, we’re driving home for Christmas.
‘Come Down to Us’ is maybe even better – a bitter love song underpinned by a ‘Misty Cold’-style drums and melody combo that eventually develops into Burial’s own soundtrack to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But Rival Dealer doesn’t just feel like a coming of age story due to its mountain-moving melodies – it also could represent a step into the unknown for Will Bevan, the person behind Burial. There’s nothing explicit enough to suggest that Rival Dealer is Burial’s own Frank Ocean letter, but the EP’s final sample – a speech by transgender filmmaker Lana Wachowski at last year’s Human Rights Campaign gala – combined with sentences such as “sometimes you’re trying to find yourself”, “step into the unknown”, “it’s about sexuality, about showing someone who you really are” and “you’re not alone” really makes you think.
Many won’t get that far, of course. Already gutted by Rival Dealer not containing material that’s half a decade old, the first comments on the Facebook thread for this EP’s release read thus: “it’s god awful”. “Expected better after such a long wait.” “Burial is over”. But fuck these people. It’s early days, but Rival Dealer might well go down as Burial’s best record to date – it’s certainly his most impressive since Untrue. If it also represents a ‘coming out’ of sorts for him – whether that’s sexually, or simply by ushering in a new stage of his music – then all the better. Merry Christmas. Let’s get this thing to number one.