Ever since the unmasking of Burial as one Will Bevan a few years ago, it seems the producer has been on a path to evade the fame that he earned with his two albums and string of singles that brought him to attention. Up until 2007, Bevan’s work certainly wasn’t conventional, but by maintaining song-like structures and lengths, it managed to be digestible while remaining experimental. His sound also developed at a noticeable rate, and the haze that unified the tracks on the albums lent them a certain cinematic ambiance that definitely increased the total effect. With the Kindred and Street Halo singles, Bevan began to move to longer-form pieces that were somewhat fragmented, but he was evidently taking pains to preserve the narrative flow of these suite-like efforts. Interestingly, collaborations with Four Tet and Dusk & Blackdown that surfaced in the same time kept the more concise format and were some of his best received, but the solo productions have continued on a no-looking-back path towards experimentalism.
The new Truant single is again composed of two 10-minute plus tracks, the title tune and Rough Sleeper, but it’s also his furthest detour yet from the dancefloor and remains aggressively fragmented throughout both sides of the record. Burial’s music has always been a pastiche of sorts: verse-chorus-verse structures that didn’t match in tempo, ambient interludes, and longer, anthemic pieces more tailored for clubs. To extend the cinema metaphor, if his early work often connected these bits together into linear scenes, the material that surfaced in the year before this more resembled short films, where various scenes were matched in tone and strung together. Most of the fragments here feel like individual shots, some of them well-composed, but separated by gulfs of silence that tend to snuff out continuity. It would be thrilling to hear the stem that leads off the title track developed into a full-length song, but it cuts off abruptly at its climax; the second portion fares better, but the side ends in a collage of colliding, momentary beats that sound like Burial tracks poorly DJed. Starting off calmly and moving forwards triumphantly, Rough Sleeper plays more to his strengths. Its opening half feels like a nearly-complete song, and the extended, optimistic middle section is amongst the most moving music Bevan has produced, with shining, gamelan-like percussion that emerges at the midpoint. The dense, cloudy fragment that ends the side again ends suddenly when perhaps two minutes more would have made it majestic, but it’s clear from the rest of the music here that’s far from Bevan’s goal. If his early work was the development that reached its peak with Kindred, this is the searching phase of an auteur trying to push his approach to its most extreme ends. Analyzed simply for sound, some of his most detailed and engrossing productions can be found within, but Truant finds Burial unabashedly at his most difficult and raises significant questions about the future direction of the project.