Releasing an album in December nowadays almost guarantees an artist from being excluded from year-end lists, since the majority of publications publish their lists at the beginning of the month.
This year was especially hectic, with several notable albums coming out during the final month of the year, hopefully making publications question the logic of revealing their lists so early.
While Beyoncé’s surprise-release of her self-titled fifth album has been getting a tremendous amount of press, this year’s finest December release was Burial’s new EP, “Rival Dealer.”
Burial is the stage name of William Bevar, an electronic musician, commonly considered to be dubstep, but whose music has many different elements. He rarely reveals information about himself, preferring to keep things focused on the music instead of himself personally. This is genius, since it lets the music speak for itself, and the music often says more about Bevar than any details about his life ever could.
Burial’s music often drones on, but it’s always for a reason. There’s rarely any repetition that feels unnecessary, and his 10-plus minute songs never feel like they should be shorter. Every element of his music is used to effectively create emotion and a unique mood that’s often absent from electronic music.
The past couple years have been excellent for Burial, with 2011’s “Street Halo” and last year’s “Kindred” and “Truant / Rough Sleeper” easily ranking among the still-young decade’s most terrific electronic releases.
“Rival Dealers” tops all of them, though. In fact, it would be his magnum opus if it weren’t up against 2007’s “Untrue,” the magnum opus of dubstep itself.
In a rare statement about his music, Burial said of “Rival Dealers,” “I wanted the tunes to be anti-bullying tunes that could maybe help someone to believe in themselves, to not be afraid, and to not give up, and to know that someone out there cares and is looking out for them.”
This theme contributes heavily to the emotional depth of the recordings. There is a sense of both sadness and hope present in these songs, notably in “Hiders,” the one track that runs under 10 minutes. It begins with minimalistic music that sounds as bittersweet as a Christmas breakup song but, near the end, it transitions into a burst of inspirational beauty, as uplifting as anything Burial has ever done.
In between the songs, spoken-word clips establish a self-acceptance theme that fits into his anti-bullying claim. Along with the emotions established by the music itself, these moments make the EP an especially deep and moving experience, culminated in the final track “Come Down to Us,” which ends with a tearjerking speech from transgender filmmaker Lana Wachowski: “Years later, I find the courage to admit that I am transgender and that this does not mean I am unlovable.”
In a year that has brought us memorable songs that deal with themes like homosexuality (Arcade Fire’s “We Exist”), feminism (The Knife’s “Full of Fire”) and race relations (Kanye West’s “New Slaves”), Burial has brought us an album that sums up the accepting and socially conscious time we’re living in. Some people are awful, but don’t let that stop you from loving yourself.
Let’s hope that there’s a big overlap between Burial fans and bullying-victims. They need this record.