Today was an especially long day of school. On Wednesdays, I have class from 9:30 to 10:20 but not again til 1:30 after which I have class til nearly 8. Normally, I use that couple hour break to return to my house (which is about a 2 mile walk from campus) to eat and rest. However, because of extenuating circumstances, I never got to go home for my break, and I spent practically the entire day downtown in class buildings. While this led to me being nearly starved by the time I got home since I couldn’t eat downtown, it did give me the opportunity to listen to two albums throughout the day (each of which I listened to at least twice). I just finished reviewing As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 by 2 Many DJs, and the other album I listened to was the instant dubstep classic, Untrue, by formerly anonymous and unnamed dubstep producer Burial (who has since been outed). Through a combination of signature heavy and rhythmic dubstep beats and Radiohead-esque ambient landscapes, this album was a highly experimental and unique creation that unfortunately left me feeling very cold and distant at times because of the nature of the music itself.
I feel slightly inadequate when it comes to reviewing this album. Before I listened to this album, I was completely unfamiliar with the genre of dubstep, other than knowing it had become very popular among the raves and nightclubs that young adults my age like to frequent. I associated it with heavy and deep synthesizer riffs and complex time measures. I had never listened to an entire dubstep album, and I couldn’t really name any dubstep artists off the top of my head. Thankfully, my transition to dubstep was eased by this album’s very heavy use of ambient sonic textures as well significant amounts of sound effects and things I know from my time with noise rock. Also, there was a considerable use of sampled vocals that had been modified beyond that of normal human melodies which also lessened the gap in experience. When the album is beautifully mixing the ambience that I associate with Radiohead or Panda Bear with tightly wound dubstep beats or when the album simply explores the sonic universe, the album is simply a revelation. However, it is bogged down by a cold emotional distance that keeps me from getting too attached to the music as well as by sections where Burial tries too hard to make more pure dubstep.
There are plenty of standout tracks on the album. The bleak emotional landscape of “Endorphin” consistently reminded me of Kid A‘s “Treefingers” each time I listened to it and “In McDonalds” was another track that immediately brought Radiohead’s magnum opus to mind. “Ghost Hardware” was the best amalgamation of the ambient and the dubstep, and it was simultaneously beautiful and unsettling. The dichotomy between beauty and the disturbing was always present in the album as I was never able to make up my mind as to whether a song was making me feel good or terrifying me. The use of vocal manipulation on the samples in “Etched Headplate” was astounding and it reminded me a lot of the big vocoder solo in “Runaway” from My Beautiufl Dark Twisted Fantasy. The music would often accomplish a nearly “drone” like level of trance through me when the heavy pounding dub beats completely took over my mind and I got lost in the pounding rhythms amongst a strangely evocative ambient soundscape.
In our post-modern era and with my fairly extensive knowledge of music, it’s very rare for me to say that something is an entirely unique experience, but I can say without hesitation that I have never listened to another album like Untrue in my life. I feel like this has the potential to be one of those albums that will just continue to grow on me with each and every listen, and I still stand by my hypothesis that I may be too inexperienced in dubstep to really analyze this particular work. However, I honestly really enjoyed this album. It had flaws that kept me from being able to totally immerse myself in it, but it kept me constantly intellectually engaged the whole time as I marveled at the more complex orchestrations and the superb use of sound effects and sonic exploration. I’m looking forward to listening to this again sometime soon.
Final Score: B+