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Record Reviews: Burial, Wu-Tang Clan and Kenna

{mosimage}BURIAL
Untrue | Hyperdub

Something like 10 people know the true identity of Burial. He likes it that way. “I’m a bit like a rubbish super hero,” he recently told the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper. In the world of electronic music, it’s easy to cultivate an air of mystery: Grown men go around performing in masks, others hide behind huge stacks of equipment, some don’t even play live at all. Burial’s smart enough to know that his tunes don’t have much to do with going out, anyway. The atmospheric dubstep found on Untrue, the producer’s 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. (It’s almost as though he’s trying to pack the entirety of the country’s underground-dance music into each second.)

Not every sample is quite as pregnant with meaning. Burial admits that “Vin Diesel’s 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 can’t 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.

WU-TANG CLAN
8 Diagrams | Prerelease mixtape

There’s 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 it’s 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 there’s one thing the Wu can be counted on for, it’s 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 Ghostface’s Fishscale or Masta Killa’s Made in Brooklyn. Still, it’s damn good to hear the entire Clan doing the posse thing, even trading verses with the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

—Jonah Flicker

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KENNA
Make Sure They See My Face

 | Star Trak/Interscope

It’s the absence of irony that makes Kenna’s ’80s throwback CD, Make Sure They See My Face — his non-jinx sophomore effort — so damn cool. He’s not above the Brit new wave references he so copiously cites; he doesn’t wink or smirk, or hide his love away beneath art-school archaeological detachment. That’s not to say that Face is absent effect. It swims in it. But the 29-year-old Ethiopian-born, West Virginia–raised 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. It’s 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 doesn’t 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 Tennant’s deadpan delivery on “West End Girls,” and in the process, underscoring the cross-genre pollination that fed so much ’80s fare.

—Ernest Hardy

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