2013 found me delving deeply back into the world of Electronic/Downtempo music. With a plethora of quality full length records from Bonobo to Bibio to DJ Koze to The Range to the return of electronic pioneers Boards of Canada, Electronic/Downtempo music was taking over my turntable and headphone’s radio waves. Certainly the soothing and undulating (mostly) instrumental beats and soundscapes of the previously mentioned albums helped engender a state of hyper focus and disconnection from the chatter of my surroundings.
Yet, nothing caught my attention with such instant awe as Burial’s Rival Dealer. In yet another surprise EP drop (over the past two years Burial has put out tracks/EPs with little pre-hype or mass advertising campaigns like some robots), Burial released Rival Dealer another in a series of EPs focused on long form Electronic/Downtempo “dance” tracks. Okay, let’s step back for a second. This is dance music in the more 90s techno/jungle/European sense. It is densely layered with excessive samples and ostensibly found sounds from various divergent sources perhaps an obfuscated vocal track in the background for texture. (It doesn’t have recurring and predictable bass drops and gimmicky industrial or “rave” sounds of say Skrillex, Major Lazer, Deadmaus or the school of “Bro-Mance-Dance” – sorry if this is your thing, it clearly isn’t mine.)
Rival Dealer is perhaps the most accessible and engrossing of all of Burial’s recordings to-date, despite the more extended and intricately nuanced nature of the sound. Broken up into two lengthy opening and closing tracks with a more traditional 4 minute composition in the middle, the 30 minute EP feels like one whole work with three distinct movements. Also unlike many dance tracks, it seems to have a thematic arch: self-awareness or finding a place/a home/acceptance in the midst of chaos and difference. Starting with a typical whirlwind of sound, “Rival Dealer” works like the Kansas tornado that whisks Dorothy and Toto away or transports you through its dark and dense rabbit hole. Then, we enter the new world of “Hiders” a burst of unbridled Technicolor (emotional) ecstasy (and almost pop-dance), a pre-“revitalization” downtown New York club sound (perhaps England too but I wasn’t there) of the late 90s with a healthy mix of 80s synth – dance music in the early days before excessive commercialization (?!?). Concluding with “Come Down with Us”, Burial again takes us from the pensive, eastern tinged meditation in the opening (with the recurring utterance “…don’t be afraid”) to an almost euphoric New Age transcendence pulling back to remind the listener(s) before finished that “…you are not alone” – a theme reiterated in the closing sample.
If it isn’t clear, I absolutely adore this recording and have listened almost incessantly since late December as it is a work of engrossing beauty.
Listen for yourself: Burial – Rival Dealer