GHOST HARDWARE EP was as Ballardian a record as I’ve ever heard: the sound of a drowned London. “Ghost Hardware” is on UNTRUE, but UNTRUE is an attempt to turn away from the watery cemetery of the EP, to make a “glowing, buzzing” record. I’m not so sure that he achieved that. Like his eponymous debut, like GHOST HARDWARE EP too, it’s head music, it’s contemplative. The textures of the thing are incredible. The beats come from under the road, the breaks come from three rooms away, and some of the vocals come from over your shoulder and thirty years ago. People sing with the crackle of dusty old vinyl. The ghosts of old musics.
I’m on the twelfth listen, and I still don’t feel like I’ve nailed what this album is. Because I don’t think Burial set out to make a funeral for soul music. But none of these lush R&B voices are alive. They’re all haunting broken speakers. They’re all coming from abandoned houses, the middle of empty streets, the floor under your flat where sometimes you hear someone tapping at the walls but that can’t be right because no-one’s lived down there in years. Vocals loop like the old stories of ghosts returning to perform the same motions night after night. The non-singing voices, the captures of people talking in the street, or even whispering, are way further up in the mix. I’m reminded of the old-style ghost hunters, training their mics on haunted rooms, and playing back the recordings to hear, under the bustle of ordinary life, the sound of dead people trying to make themselves heard to the world of the breathing.
It’s not as immediately doomed a record as GHOST HARDWARE EP. But it’s not as benign a record as it wants to be, or as it wants you to think it is. Even the final track, “Raver,” sounds like the 21st Century sadly closing the casebook marked “1992” and locking it in the filing cabinet of failing memory. Throwing it back to the ghosts.