Tunes 2011-2019, by Burial

Dubstep / Hyperdub / December 6, 2019 – Reviewed by Jon Lindblom

As the title indicates, Tunes 2011-2019 is a massive compilation (almost 2.5 hours long) with all of Burial’s tracks released on Hyperdub after his self-titled debut (2006) and its follow-up Untrue (2007) – with the exception of ‘Rodent’ from 2017. This is most welcome, since he has not actually put out another full-length album since then – but instead opted to release his increasingly lengthy tracks on a string of EPs and 12 inches. Hence, it is nice to have them all collected in one place – although I should also immediately say that I think that the significance of this release is about much more than simple convenience, as I will return to in a moment.

Much has of course been written about the cultural impact of Burial at this point, so I will not reiterate it here (but, anyone who is interested, see in particular Mark Fisher’s original analysis of Burial’s music as a hauntological take on the hardcore continuum, as well as Simon Reynold’s more recent extended piece on Untrue) other than simply mentioning that I found the spectral hauntings of the two albums as fascinating as anyone else – in terms of their retroactive articulation of the affective ecologies and temporal trajectory of the hardcore continuum filtered through the cultural inertia and affective textures of the present (what sometimes has been referred to as ‘lost futures’, precisely insofar as Burial’s retroactive articulation explicates the temporal deadlock that underpins these lost futures).

But even though this conceptual take on Burial’s music remains fascinating, I was never completely won over by the albums – which, although certainly offering plenty of amazing tunes, quite often felt somewhat sketchy to me, in that they simply seemed to provide brief snapshots into the Burial sonic landscapes, rather than their full vision (in a way, it was almost more interesting to talk about Burial than to actually listen to Burial). It is on the back of this that this compilation becomes most significant to me – insofar as its extended duration (of tracks and album) really allows Burial’s sonic landscapes to, at last, properly come together for this listener. Indeed, for an artist whose music is so steeped in mood and atmosphere, duration seems to be a crucial component – and I was certainly intrigued when he started to experiment with track duration from Kindred and onwards, as I think that it really took his tunes to another level. For while it obviously is impossible to ignore the sheer impact that the first albums had – that is, when we first came into contact with Burial’s singular sonic profile – on a compositional level, I think that the subsequent output is far more interesting. Particularly his trio of releases from 2011 and 2012 – Kindred, Truant and Rival Dealer – which are his best to date for me, but also the more recent, beat-less stuff that gains novel relevance on this album. Indeed, it is the overall structure that is the most significant aspect of Tunes 2011-2019, which powerfully recontextualises the post-album releases into an astonishingly new whole.

Too often, artist compilations – just like best-of albums – end up feeling like less than their component parts, since there rarely seems to be an overall idea behind them (perhaps other than making some extra money). Hence, what you often get is simply nothing more than various tunes randomly put together. But this is certainly not the case with this release, as it is quite evident that there has been thought put into the ordering of the tracks (that is somewhat different from the individual releases) and the coherence of the whole – which is why it provides what we may think of as a novel perspective on these by now well-known tunes. I also particularly like the decision to put the more ambient, beat-less stuff in the beginning – as it brilliantly sets the mood and thus provides a great opening third of the album. Then follows the more well-known tunes from releases like Rival Dealer and Kindred, before the album finally ends with the tracks from the Street Halo EP.

In a way, this is a subtle thing – but I nevertheless think that it has been crucial for doing justice to the astonishing material on offer here. The ambient tracks in particular win a lot on how they have been recontextualised, as listening to them in this context made me appreciate them a lot more than simply listening to them on their own. Although this can really be applied to all individual songs, which come together into a remarkable unity that only was implicit in the earlier individual releases, but that powerfully has been brought together here. Overall, Tunes 2011-2019 provides the by far most convincing offering of Burial’s music to date – in terms of a basically flawless, 2.5-long hour journey through the sonic landscapes of one of the defining artists of his generation.