It seems plausible that Burial has already released the proper follow-up LP to his 2007 masterpiece Untrue, but just hasn't compiled all of the tracks onto one record yet. From last year's Street Halo EP to the brand-new "Truant" b/w "Rough Sleeper" 12", the effectively anonymous producer (although some might say that's debatable) has slowly unveiled a string of tracks ranging from the pleasantly familiar to the confoundingly overwrought. Songs like "NYC" and the excellent "Ashtray Wasp" (one of XLR8R's favorite tracks of the year) kept Burial's downcast 2-step fresh with spacious arrangements and loftier tempos while still harkening back to the coherent structure and palpable emotion of his past work. But the artist's latest record is far more challenging and disjointed, and gives us two tracks that can be difficult to follow, especially outside of the context of a full-length album.
The 12" plays like a night drive up a rainy mountain road, as each twist and turn either brings another obscured vista to take in or sends everything into a sudden freefall of screeching noise and stark moments of silence. In actuality, both sides of the record sound as if Burial crammed a handful of tracks together under one title, and the abrupt starts and stops littered throughout their runtimes don't help assuage that notion. "Truant" is the main offender in this case. It starts out strong with a sub-heavy shuffle, a sullen drone of a melody, and one of Burial's clearest vocal samples calling out, "I fell in love with you," but that dark groove is eventually dismantled entirely and replaced by a few tangential beats which trade places over the course of the nearly 12-minute production. The first three-quarters of "Truant" are somewhat consistent, and satisfyingly so, though cutting the song off at six and a half minutes might've made it even better, as the music continues on growing messy and convoluted before veering entirely off course.
On the flip, "Rough Sleeper" makes better use of Burial's recent love for crafting extremely long tracks by sticking to a single trajectory, which allows its various ups, downs, lefts, and rights to sound like they actually have a point, no matter how drastic or subtle the changes may be. With the soft luminescence of a few organ chords, the song eases into the producer's trademark sound palette—a stripped-down kick-and-stick drum kit, some lovesick vocal cries, deep throbs of bass, tactile atmospherics, et al—before sidestepping into stretches of ominous tension, quiet beauty, and glowing redemption. Two short saxaphone solos quickly nod to dubstep's roots and add unexpectedly unique moments to "Rough Sleeper." The closing stanzas gently bring it from a moment of clarity back down into the dust. It makes for almost 14 minutes of emotionally moving music which—unlike its counterpart—remains captivating from its hushed beginning to its well-orchestrated conclusion.
"Truant" b/w "Rough Sleeper" isn't the strongest record on its own, but its tracks sound as if they'd work better as part of a larger piece. With some editing, the a-side could be a solid second or third stop on an album's tracklist, leaving its remaining pieces as interludes or intros to more fully-realized tunes. "Rough Sleeper" would make an ideal closer for Burial's next LP. If 2013 brings his third full-length, we'll know soon enough how this kind of restless music fits into the bigger picture of who Burial is and what he has to say, but as standalone productions, these two tracks represent a handful of very good and very affecting ideas that are sometimes overcome by the artist's own ambition.