Critical Voices: Burial, Rival Dealer

January 16, 2014

“This is who I am,” the first vocal sample of the EP resonates.  Six years after his album, Untrue, was crowned the best album of 2007 (based on aggregate reviews), William Emmanuel Bevan, or Burial, has discovered himself on his latest release, Rival Dealer. This record of self-acceptance comes as a shock to much of Burial’s fan base, which had canonized his sound as a secure staple in the electronic music industry. This EP, however, is Bevan’s most accessible work to date, even as it manages to pack an intense emotional experience into the brief 30-minute recording.

Rival Dealer, like Burial’s previous albums, is highlighted by his deep-listening style and iconic sound, composed of thick breakbeats and droning synth progressions. The lead and title track lucidly illustrates Bevan’s confusion and yearning for self-discovery. The 11-minute song is broken into multiple chapters, starting with a dense, shuffling beat that abruptly shifts to a segment of soft, meditative synth drones adorned by distorted vocal samples. As the song continues to develop, it is punctuated with sounds of police scanners, traffic, and even the metallic clank of a spray paint can.

Though Burial’s mastery of timing and dynamics lays the emotional backdrop, it is his vocal samples that give this EP its allure. The record’s most enticing track, “Hiders,” employs tastefully curated samples to tell a story of isolation and loneliness. “There’s a kid, somewhere,” the leading sample tells the listener, as a slow-moving keyboard riff builds to a cathartic arena-rock beat.

But the most moving segment of the EP comes toward the end of the final track, “Come Down to Us.” Burial ends this song with a passage from the speech delivered by trans* filmmaker Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) after receiving the Human Rights Campaign Visibility Award. The passage describes her hopelessness, her courage, and her acceptance of her own lovability. This inclusion may be an intentional frame for Burial’s album or may simply be parallel to Bevan’s journey for self-acceptance. Whether of gender identity, sexual orientation, or simply as an emergence of his new sound, Rival Dealer is Burial’s coming out, and his most beautiful music yet.


Voice’s Choices: “Hiders,”
“Come Down to Us”

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