Burial’s Street Halo EP and the “Ego”/”Mirror” collaboration with Four Tet/Thom Yorke were welcome additions to Will Bevan’s catalog in 2011, but they served as mostly a deluxe paint job and a tire rotation — a re-purposing of the lurching rhythms, spectral R&B vocals, and unsettling atmosphere that were draped all over 2007’s epochal Untrue like a dark wet shroud. The Kindred EP, however, is another thing altogether. It’s more of a transformation, like that moment in 2008’s Dark Knight when Christian Bale’s fatally damaged Batmobile jettisons its casing to become a cool-as-fuck Bat Pod motorcycle or in 1988’s Alien Nation when an alien Newcomer overdoses on the drug Jabroka and mutates into something far stronger and more monstrous. By shedding skin and adding muscle, an already impressive Burial has become something you didn’t expect.
“Kindred” begins with warm synths and gobs of vinyl crackle that’s soon followed by Burial’s immediately recognizable 2-step jerky percussion. But about a minute and a half in, the floor drops out and is replaced by a gargantuan bass that almost resembles the sound of a machine changing shape (dubstep thanks you, Michael Bay). The track switches gears from skittering precision into a sleek hulk of rhythm and menace. This still feels like Burial — that is, it’s music made for wandering through dark rainy underpasses and grimy dance floors, but everything feels a bit more dangerous.
Fresh sonic nuances and sharper textures litter the EP’s three tracks. “Loner” adds rave-like sequencers to a four-on-the-floor build-up until the last minute when a soul singer’s ghost wafts in over the dying sound of jazz snares. “Ashtray Wasp” employs spoons-on-glass percussion and a twinkling piano riff to offset a disembodied voice moaning “I want you. I used to belong to you.” You can clearly tell that Burial has internalized some of the melodic lessons from his work with Four Tet and Yorke, and he employs them as a soothing counterpoint for the track’s throbbing, propulsive darkness that otherwise unfolds like a nervous tic.
Amazingly, none of these long tracks strays anywhere near monotony. Each one is broken into asymmetrical pieces that alternate between oppressively sinister and strangely hopeful, like some suite of dark, deranged urban living amidst shafts of sunlight. Burial’s signature aura and appeal are still present on the Kindred EP, but this work is leaner, stronger, and more ominous than anything he’s released to date. At 30 minutes, it all feels essential, too, like Burial left everything else on the cutting room floor. What’s left is futuristic and cinematic, a soundtrack for a special kind of beguiling, apocalyptic thriller that they haven’t quite made yet. You will get to the end of it all too fast — and then you will play it again.