Burial Comes Unstuck

The English producer abandons pop structures entirely on his new EP, ‘Young Death’

We meet Burial in South London, or at least that’s where he says he is in his 2005 EP South London Boroughs and his self-titled debut album from the following year. The titles of his early songs, which are shuffling and spectral and chilled, indicate physical spaces: “Night Bus,” “Distant Lights,” “Broken Home.” The music has physicality, too. Drum beats, sampled from older songs, clatter and echo. You can see wood hitting metal. You can feel the air pounded off the bass drum.

Over the last 10 years, Burial has left the architecture of his early work behind. He hasn’t put out a full album since 2007, when his second LP, Untrue, attracted a sect of devoted listeners that only grew the more he ignored them. In this decade, he's issued an EP every year or three, mostly without fanfare. We know he has another name, William Bevan, because it’s one of the few things he’s told us about himself. His social media presence consists of exactly one selfie.

Burial resists the structures that usually dictate how artists make and sell music. He has never performed live. He does not communicate with his fans. That void lets a wild hunger grow around his songs, which themselves resist the structures that generally organize dance music. On Untrue, tracks like “Archangel” shadowed the catch-and-release of verses and hooks. The vocals were almost indecipherable, the lyrics were blurred, but the melodies followed sequences woven deep into pop music’s DNA. Now, Burial corrupts those sequences. His new two-track EP, Young Death / Nightmarket, contains his most unmoored music so far, a 14-minute space in which he dictates nothing, solves nothing — just floats, plays, observes.

Young Death follows 2013’s Rival Dealer, which offered science fiction as a template for imagining the kind of all-encompassing love that runs too thin on Earth. A woman describes seeing lights in the sky that call to her. Bells ring out with soft-rock exuberance. The vocals, typically shrouded and full of longing, offer unconditional acceptance: “You don’t have to be alone.” The three-track release ends with an extended sample of a speech by Lana Wachowski, in which she recalls the process of learning to accept herself as a trans woman. There’s an ellipsis in her words. The music returns, and she shifts topics: “This world that we imagine in this room might be used to gain access to other rooms, to other worlds previously unimaginable.”

Burial’s new single keeps that invitation to the other side extended. “Don’t fear, I will always be there for you,” one of his borrowed voices sings on the title track. On side B’s “Nightmarket,” another voice urges: “Come with me.” The track floats among synthesizer figures, arpeggios like those that might introduce an ’80s alien movie. The song has no beats, nothing designed to move a body. Burial had already begun loosening his grip on pop music’s traditional mechanisms — even the most ecstatic parts of Rival Dealer fade to static before they run their anticipated course — but here, he lets them drop.

Music maps desire along time. By frustrating the ways in which pop music has taught us to want, Burial opens space for other rooms, other channels, other means of yearning. His dance music is meant for the dance we do with ourselves. Like the most lyrical science-fiction storytellers, the further Burial reaches into uncharted space, the deeper he dives into the human mind that longs for whatever’s out there. We know the universe holds an immeasurable vacuum, and still we pray that the lights in the sky might be God for once.