ll music converses with other music. Unfortunately, Burial’s self-titled debut comes at the end of one conversation that most ardent music fans in America know nothing about. So some might say that if you haven’t been to England or listened to El-B or DMZ 12”’s, you’ll never get everything that’s being put on the table by this dubstep producer. Luckily, even without the context, Burial is an occasionally great and always thrilling album.
Thrilling in the sense that there’s a universality to a track like “Wounder” that works whether you’re flying above South London, walking in Brooklyn at night, or sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories. As long as it’s night, you’re probably halfway there. Campfires? Yep. The crackle of fire (or vinyl or radio or rain) is sprinkled over nearly every moment of Burial.
It gives the album an instant lived-in feel that would seem clichéd if it weren’t used so effectively. On a track like “Southern Comfort,” you can barely hear it—except when things go quiet and you realize that a rush of hot air has been blowing in the back right channel for minutes without our knowledge. “You Hurt Me” puts it up-front and center, marinating the vocal samples and drum hits in the blaze.
With crackle providing much of the color, the rhythms make up the meat of the album. Like Photek before him, Burial depends on the timbre of the clipped snares and roiling bass to act as the melodic force. On “Prayer,” he jacks Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” beat and little else, weaving its sped-up version inside wounded cathedrals of haze. The most successful tracks on the album, though, are the ones that circle their skeleton rhythms around a vocal sample (“You Hurt Me” and “Gutted” especially). But it’s not all ghoststep—Burial goes straight for the hauntology crowd with beatless wanderings like “Forgive” and “Night Bus.”
For most Americans, pirate radio is what happens when the Decemberists get on your local indie station. As such, it’s unfair to believe that the ideas and history that feed into Burial’s sound are going to have much resonance or add to the experience. That being said, when a song like “Pirates” lifts up ghoulish voices to only deflate and distort them moments later, it serves as a reminder that the important parts of a good ghost story translate into any language.