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Burial’s Untruth as an Existential CPR

After managing to download .flac1 files of Burial’s Untrue (2007) album onto my phone in the beginning of August, since I’m so picky about sound quality sometimes, I commenced a Burial therapy that has lasted for 4 days, a couple hours of which were what I would call ‘Burial CPR’. I listened to the track “Untrue” from Burial’s album Untrue (2007) more than a dozen times almost consecutively, and the album itself more than 5 times in just a few days. It is the first time in my life that something like this had occurred to me. But my familiarity with Burial first occurred through his collaboration with another favorite artist of mine: Four Tet, whose album There is Love in You (2010) is one of my favorites. Then I appreciated the production technicalities of Burial’s album which are undoubtedly phenomenal, after which I stumbled upon a couple of Mark Fisher’s k-punk blog posts about Burial which amazingly contextualized (here, here) my intuitions and feelings about Burial’s sound. But that was before the album became something more than it did for me during these past couple days. I decided to give the album a run during a couple emotionally hefty days that I had to drag myself through, the causes and motivations would be left in abstract. But overall, Untrue became more than an album, it can be a medication for reconciling dreadful and difficult emotional states.

The track “Untrue” is undoubtedly one of the deepest and profound cruxes of Burial’s ambient time-stretched dreading ambient urban-cave sound therapy—if a description of the album Untrue can be given in just a few words. When one listens to it and feels the absorption of the sound in their entrenched soul; one goes beyond just the want to cry. In this sense, Burial’s Untrue album is a transcendence of a sad song—that over which one simply wants mourn over. The album therefore is not a pill that fixes your stupid breakup, but it takes the emotion of that situation, morphs it, elevates the superficiality of one’s situation onto the existential plane, and then shows a path to transcendence. Consider the track “Endorphin”; does not this track precisely highlight the dilemma of experiencing euphoria and absence of pain after taking opioids, and the depressing reality that kicks in once the high is over? Here, one may substitute the illicit substance with whatever fits Marx’s ’opium of the people’ metaphor, wether that entails religion, pop culture, shopping, video games (mind you, Burial is heavy video gamer). But what “Endoprhine” highlights, is that we all crave our preferred opioids, which we all have and are highly dependent on, and without which, we will withdraw and consider ending the suffering altogether. While the track’s conclusion is not a call to transform the material reality as Marx’s, it ponders on this endorphino-opiod dependent form of existence that all humans in modern-day postmodern capitalism are subject to, and finds a form of reconciliation that is outside of this loop of dependance—the transcendence. It hopes that the listener extracts a lesson from it, not that it will care if the listener won’t.

When one familiarizes a sound which penetrates and resonates with one’s own body and soul, they might encounter an emotional deadlock: one ends up paralyzed both, physically and emotionally as Burial’s time-stretched kicks and snares bombard one’s depleted emotional void, but instead of causing further harm, the sound bombardment is absorbed by this state of the listener. The absorption goes the other way around as well, the listener—the beholder of the sound—integrates into the track itself. In this state, one is in dialogue with the sound. When one is in a state of giving some preliminary thoughts about how their note left behind might look like, the track, almost like a friend, compels the dreading lister to suspend these thoughts for the time being; if nothing else does, the track becomes the sole reconciliation with ones own emotions and failures, one encounters the very ontology of one’s own experience. In this moment, all you want is to let the resonance of the reverbs, voices, base lines, kicks, and snares fill the emotional void inside you. The track is doing something with your inner emotional void; you are in awe, you cannot move, you won’t stop it.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the album are, as I already implied, the time-stretched kicks and drums in every track, where every one of them diverges in character; each one of them seeks to communicate something different when accompanied with the unique ambience of every track. Tracks “Untrue”,“Near Dark”, “Archangel”, “Ghost Hardware”, “Etched Headache” (in order of preference) all demonstrate this aspect. When contemplating about what makes the kicks of these drums so emotionally curing I have thought of the following: sometimes when one experiences a down, a couple more emotional soft but profound kicks and punches from within is what one needs in order to cary one’s existence along. I think of it as an existential CPR. One might conclude: If this track can live on, then so can I along with it. Along with that, something can be brought out of Camus’s wager: “Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?” Here indeed, Burial’s Untrue album is precisely the cup of coffee that one needs to drag oneself through (maybe for at least) another day, except that the album is much more than a coffee that one simply consumes. It is in this sense that some Burial’s tracks can act as a CPR in a life-death moment, where instead of saving a life with two hands, one can save it with two earbuds.

Going back to the track “Untrue” however, I want to point out the ambient reverbed sound first heard on 0:34 which repeats throughout the track: it acts as something that induces sublimating body shiver, as if it is an electricity that forces every cell of the body to express and release an emotional resonance. I think this ambient sound is the epitome of a shiver-inducing sound, I get them every time the sound runs trough my ears and body, sometimes disregarding whether I am listening to the track in a cold air-conditioned interior space, or desperately melting beneath the hot August sun. It is precisely this aspect of Burial’s sound that penetrates one’s deepest emotional states, when it does, one becomes astounded and paralyzed, almost as if one was struck by a sword blade. Every listener will find their own sound of this type in the album. It is at this point that the title Untrue reveals its meaning: when one is struck in a deep and profound way (by a sword, heartbreaking words, or whatever it might be), one does not feel it as false as if it were a negative of truth; rather, one feels that one had been struck and remains in awe, paralyzed. It is at this moment of untruth where one’s belief is in suspense, because one feels and experiences the occurrence to such a profound degree, one stops believing it is happening, the aftermath of the strike becomes something ungraspable, while one feels and experiences and lives it like s/he never had nothing else before. One becomes resurrected in a way, like one feels in “Archangel”, but this resurrection does not consist of becoming disembodied from reality, rather on the contrary, the listener becomes embodied in reality to extents that one had never been before.

The album however is not completely as I have described in terms of its capacity to unravel one’s fragile emotional states. Some tracks are uplifting and even euphoric such as, “Homeless”, “In McDonalds”, and the last minute of “Shell of Light”. It is ironical that one of the softest and most tender sounds of he album is the track “In McDonalds”. Mark Fisher would probably go on analyzing the condition of capitalist postmodernity with this track, if he was still alive. But of course the album Untrue is infinitely more than I have managed put in words, it can be listened and re-listened, felt and re-felt, interpreted and re-interpreted; it cannot be depleted, it will always entail an ungraspable excess no matter how much you put it in words—as all great creations do.

To wrap up, another latent but yet profound optimism hidden in the album is the track “Homeless”. It motivates one to drag oneself throughout the day, even with a void on the inside and an emptiness on the outside—whether that entails not having a home or, more metaphorically I think, a meaningless world that cannot provide the subject a home where meaning can be established and built. But ultimately, the only thing there is at least, is the encounter that one had with Burial’s sound, which at a certain moment of feeling and reconciliation, was the only thing that there really was. This feeling I claim, is precisely the feeling and experience of untruth.

  1. Audio files in .flac format like .mp3 files compress audio but unlike the later, the .flac is better at maintaining quality of the sound but at the expense of taking up more memory.