Record Reviews: Burial, Wu-Tang Clan and Kenna
Untrue | Hyperdub
Something like 10 people know the true identity of Burial. He likes it that way. Im a bit like a rubbish super hero, he recently told the U.K.s Guardian newspaper. In the world of electronic music, its easy to cultivate an air of mystery: Grown men go around performing in masks, others hide behind huge stacks of equipment, some dont even play live at all. Burials smart enough to know that his tunes dont have much to do with going out, anyway. The atmospheric dubstep found on Untrue, the producers second album, is music for the exhausted drive home the faint echo of a perfect night at the club.
Like his self-titled debut, Untrue trades in skeletal rhythms, their syncopation punctuated by gun-shot snares at the end of each measure. What separates Burial from the burgeoning scene of dubstep producers, however, is what he calls vibes. Wedged in between, over the top of and underneath every drum hit is the looped sound of vinyl crackle or static decayed transmissions from U.K. pirate radio stations. (Its almost as though hes trying to pack the entirety of the countrys underground-dance music into each second.)
Not every sample is quite as pregnant with meaning. Burial admits that Vin Diesels car keys and bullet casings hitting concrete in Metal Gear Solid are secret weapons. Also favored on Untrue: the human voice. Near Dark, among others, features repeated phrases (I cant take my eyes off you, I envied you), which take on a distinctly sinister quality when Burial finishes with them. The diva of Etched Headplate sounds like her voice was taken from a tape recorder pushed up against an idling bus foggy window. The only trace of life? The little circle left after Burial takes it away and home to craft another vibe.
| Prerelease mixtape
Theres still a month to go before the Wu-Tang Clan reunites for the highly anticipated 8 Diagrams. If this free preview mixtape (compiled and mixed by RZA protégé Mathematics, and available by registering at www.loud.com/login) is any indication, shit is gonna be nice... although its a bit misleading, as many of the tracks included are either remixes (Maxine, The W) or previously released album cuts (Ghost Is Back, Real Nillaz). Still, if theres one thing the Wu can be counted on for, its unpredictability, inconsistency and intimations that they are nothing to fuck with. Some of the songs on this mix that, according to various sources on the Web, will make the final cut, include the weepy ODB tribute Life Changes, the Beatles-sampling The Heart Gently Weeps and the tension-filled breakbeats of Thug Life. Whatever makes the track list, 8 Diagrams has to be better than The W, and probably not as good as Ghostfaces Fishscale or Masta Killas Made in Brooklyn. Still, its damn good to hear the entire Clan doing the posse thing, even trading verses with the late Ol Dirty Bastard.
Make Sure They See My Face
| Star Trak/Interscope
Its the absence of irony that makes Kennas 80s throwback CD, Make Sure They See My Face his non-jinx sophomore effort so damn cool. Hes not above the Brit new wave references he so copiously cites; he doesnt wink or smirk, or hide his love away beneath art-school archaeological detachment. Thats not to say that Face is absent effect. It swims in it. But the 29-year-old Ethiopian-born, West Virginiaraised BFF of Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams (a.k.a. the Neptunes) gives himself over to his musical influences with sincere abandon, capturing something of what it was like for so many American kids first hearing (or seeing) the early 80s British MTV/KROQ darlings as they stormed the shores of U.S. pop culture. Its the giddy rush of possibility, as assorted cultural assumptions are trashed and genre boundaries traversed via technology and innate pop sensibilities. With the help of producer and co-songwriter Hugo (Pharrell also produced and co-wrote two tracks), Kenna has mapped the future through artfully massaged re-creations of the not-too-distant past.
Flickers of Coldplay and Radiohead crop up on Face, and the Ramones get a nod too. But spiraling through the grooves of Make Sure They See My Face most powerfully are the stylistic fingerprints of the Cure, U2, the Pet Shop Boys, the Fixx and countless British 80s one-hit wonders who made their marks and then vanished. (If Kenna doesnt quite have the full-on lung power of Bono, he nails the phrasing and passion.) Hugo and Pharrell provide foundations of syncopated drum beats that simultaneously unfold the DNA of their own fabled studio aesthetic, while being grin-inducing, ass-shakingly faithful homages to the drum-machine glories of days gone by. Highlight: The black-boy-white-boy rap Kenna does mid-way through Loose Wires, evoking Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennants deadpan delivery on West End Girls, and in the process, underscoring the cross-genre pollination that fed so much 80s fare.
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