Single Review: "Subtemple" b/w "Beachfires" by Burial

Wherever William Bevins is, it’s always raining.

Over the course of the last decade plus, that’s the one thing all of the music that Bevins has put out under the mysterious Burial moniker has in common—on the track, it’s always raining in the distance; there’s always intermittent and intentional static; there’s always something that sounds like guns cocking, or just non-descript metal clanking.

As Burial, Bevins is probably never going to release another full-length, meaning his self-titled album from 2006, and its follow up, Untrue, were not anomalies; but rather, the sound of an artist still finding his voice—I mean, as much as one can find their voice when making primarily instrumental, electronic-based music.

Beginning in 2011, after years of relative silence, Bevins began releasing three song EPs, each becoming more elaborate and densely layered, culminating in what is probably his definitive statement as Burial—2013’s Rival Dealer.

After three years of silence, Bevins returned late last year with the double shot of “Young Death” and “Night Market”—two pieces that were not exactly terrible, but not as transcendental or life affirming as what we maybe wanted from him. Also, if we’re just being completely honest, I think we could say they were marginally forgettable. I mean, how many people reading this right now even remembered that these songs were released in November, and how many of you have listened to them since then?

Surprisingly, with no advance warning, Bevins has returned with a new Burial single, “Subtemple” b/w “Beachfires.” And as I had said in the closing of my piece on “Young Death,” which I will say again here—he’ll give us what we need, but it may not be what we want.

I hesitate to call these two new pieces “directionless,” but they teeter very heavily into the ambient, less structured territory that he explored briefly on the interlude tracks on both his self-titled effort and Untrue.

Timed out at seven minutes, “Subtemple” is an exercise in restraint and tension. As expect, there’s static, there’s rain in the distance, and there is a clicking, metallic sound. Like, what happens if Bevins ever runs out of metallic clicking sounds to sample?

The opening of “Subtemple” is built around the silence that falls in between things—a disembodied vocal sample, quiet wind chimes, odd noises, and a rhythmic ticking that comes and goes. I kind of even hesitate to call this “ambient music,” because it is kind of not even music; it’s like one of those spooky sound effect cassettes you play at Halloween, except it’s curated by David Lynch.

After my initial listen to “Beachfires,” I described it as an exponentially sadder score to Blade Runner, if the movie itself had 100% more rain.

Built around muffled blasts of a mournful sounding, synthesizer blasts, at first it seems like this is all going to serve as an introduction to something larger—however, that proves not to be the case. Unfolding across nearly ten minutes,  “Beachfires” finds Bevins operating at his most claustrophobic and moodiest; he’s always tapped into unnerving sounds, but never quite like this before. The unflinching sense of dread and sadness that courses throughout, until the very final moments, is palpable.

Much like the a-side, “Beachfires,”is also an exercise in restraint and tension, and both pieces move along at about the pace of the director’s cut of a foreign documentary about molasses rolling up a hill. But that’s the point, I think—creating a stark, ambient, and hopeless atmosphere.

One of the samples on “Young Death” was a pitch-shifted voice that sang “I will always be there for you.” It’s all too easy to read too much into Bevins’ work as Burial—like, what is the deeper context of these pieces, especially his canon over the last six years. While “Subtemple” arrived only months after its predecessor, along with it being some of the more ominous music Bevins has ever made, it’s also the most distant sounding. It’s literally quiet, yes, but you can look into this as a metaphorical distance as well: just how long will he always be there for us?

Ten years after Untrue, he’s never going to make another full length album, and now four years removed from Rival Dealer, it’s looking like his three song EPs crammed of multi-movement compositions is also a thing of the past. So, what do pieces like “Subtemple” and “Beachfires” mean now that they are out in the world? It means that Bevins, as Burial, is still evolving and still finding his way. It means that when he’s exhausted an idea or a concept, he moves on (whether we want him to or not) and that we, as listeners, are along for the ride.

"Subtemple"/"Beachfires" is out now as a digital download, and a 10" vinyl single will ship on May 26th.