Street Halo

(Hyperdub; 2011)

By George Bass | 4 April 2011

Will Bevan, darling of night bus loners everywhere, shares honors with Thom Yorke in being one of Britain’s most spontaneous releasers. The two artists’ surprise collaboration last month may have produced a slightly over-egged pudding, but at least it provided proof Burial was still alive, and still doing his best to make UK garage the loneliest sound on the planet. Only two weeks after the Ego/Mirror 12”, Hyperdub Records tapped everyone on the shoulder and announced Burial had prepared his first solo release in years, cold on the heels of 2007’s Untrue and dipped in the same static and insomnia. Fans went into overdrive, but despite being accorded the precious HDB013 slot, the superstitions on Street Halo end there: Bevan hasn’t felt the need to undergo a four-year direction change or hire a live drummer or start singing. His three new tracks have instead been unanimous in drawing a singular response from his followers: “This sounds the same as Untrue / This sounds the same as Untrue!” Street Halo is like a dubstep EP made by Samuel Beckett.

The A-side unveils Burial’s return by showing a slight gravitation towards house. His crackle and woodblock are still as resonant as ever, but now there’s a 4/4 beat pumping behind them, indicating perhaps he’s starting to warm to the “Tetris music” he denounced in his one single interview. That’s a surprise given the broken beatwork he’s associated with—could Burial have committed harakiri and left his bedroom, twisted a little on the club floor? The shredded vocals would suggest otherwise, plus the fact he’s still layering on the comedown buzz. Maybe he’s losing his shit ironically. There’s a great drop and hook in “Halo”‘s second minute when a surprise guitar starts grinding, but otherwise this is Burial 101, pulled off with the flourish of a pro. Further listens reveal the track uses possibly his most confrontational bass to date. But do not panic, night bus loners. You can still go to sleep to it.

The flipside is two strong, with “NYC” dropping down into Bevan’s more amniotic reaches, and “Stolen Dog” coming back up. The 2-step delay and pure synth of “NYC” are as close to solace as he’s drifted; the dark click, homesick ebb and low BPM still securing the track to the tail of the dubstep genre. There’ll be plenty of clubbers shut out of tube stations being kept alive by this one, with its spartan blocks clunking like weak ecstasy. The samples seem to come straight from the womb, however, particularly if your mum got pregnant at Fabric. “When I’m around,” coos the ghost of whoever, bass zapping against the light. Like “Street Halo” it seems to have an organic personality: moving, resting, pushing, circling.

The final cut is the strongest, and as soon as “NYC” dies, “Stolen Dog” hits you with its muted house jabs. These are boosted by Bevan’s whooshing bass chords, as well as the EP’s best vocal in fourteen minutes (though still rendered indecipherable). Whoever’s lungs were originally behind this one can hold their notes like slivers of euphoria, and Burial sketches one of his more obvious melodies, shrouding it in drizzle and energy. Not one single track on Untrue sounded as good as this: packed with the immediacy a single demands and leaving you wondering why it wasn’t picked as lead. Maybe it’s just deprivation, and the fact that a lot of people needed to hear new Burial and “Street Halo” came first in the pressing queue.

Whichever order you digest it in, this EP soon confirms why it is that Burial’s been so missed. Will Bevan is an enigma in the electronica community whose talent and reclusiveness have propelled him into the mainstream, and now, thousands of people working twelve hour shifts cling to his music like Night Nurse. Street Halo shows his commitment to his music both by tweaking it and sticking to the formula. It still makes him capable of bridging the brutal and the delicate. Only experienced crisis negotiators can say that.