Actually, there is a difference between “best” and “favorite,” and often (though not necessarily), they are much the same as the difference between “good music” and “just fucking emotionally resonating music” (these things are not mutually exclusive).
In that regard, Rival Dealer is assuredly not Burial’s best release. In fact, I can see why people might like this one the least of any Burial release. Firstly, the drums that could pound life back into your dead ancestors (ie. “Archangel” or “Kindred”) that separated Burial from other future garagers aren’t here; they’ve been replaced by stuff culled from previous decades. The drums in the first half of “Rival Dealer” takes the relentless drumming straight out of a page from breakbeat’s book (and when a sample pops up at the 5:55 mark that says, “You know my motherfucking style,” for a moment, I thought I could be listening to the Prodigy), while the drums in the second half of “Hiders” could’ve been taken from an unstoppable 80s pop hit used in a cereal commercial. Secondly, this is Burial’s most melodic-relying release, and though the man’s been melodic before, it’s been much more subtle then it is here. “Hiders” is the obvious one, the only Burial song since 2007’s Untrue to be under the 5-minute mark, driven by a repeating piano figure, while a good chunk of “Come Down to Us” is its keyboard (?) hook and equally tuneful soulful singing working in parallel. Even “Rival Dealer” has the repeating “I’m going to love you more than anyone” spread throughout that’s as immediate as the drums that soon follow.
Speaking of which, thirdly, this is Burial’s most vocal sample-heavy release. Most of them are used to great effect: the words “come down to us” are spread throughout all three tracks and thus, despite each sounding extremely different from one another, they are tied together in a way that none of his previous releases have bothered with. Meanwhile, the “There’s a kid somewhere” that opens “Hiders” immediately leads to the sound of rain and I get the image of parents searching for their child (I also picture U2’s “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight”’s music video, which was a very good video), the “Excuse me, I’m lost” that opens “Come Down to Us” makes me picture a down-on-her-luck woman looking for shelter and it gives me goosebumps every time. Both the two long ones here end with a speech, and though I can picture someone finding either superfluous, the one on “Rival Dealer” is every M83 monologue ever if Anthony Gonzalez was better with words and I am particularly fond of Lana Wachowski’s acceptance speech that closes “Come Down to Us.” It begins with the touching, ”Without examples, without models, I began to believe voices in my head that I was a freak, that I am broken, that there is something wrong with me, that I will never be loveable,” and ends with the hopeful, ”this world that we imagine in this room might be used to gain access to other rooms, to other worlds previously unimaginable.”
And that’s what Rival Dealer boils down to at the end of the day – hope. There’s a sample at the 10:39 mark of “Come Down to Us” that should be familiar to anyone who’s heard Kindred EP’s “Loner” (the one that goes “There’s something out there”). Whereas this sample in that song was used to build atmosphere, as if there was something sinister lurking in the shadows around you, the one here gains a completely different effect – as if that something around the corner is the person who’ll finally accept you for you. Burial has tried his hardest (and really succeeded) to maintain the highest level of possible anonymity in today’s day and age, but couldn’t resist sharing that ”I wanted the tunes [in the new EP] 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.” And though I’ve been touched by Burial songs before (ie. “Ashtray Wasp”), none of them have hit me the way “Come Down to Us” does, regardless of how – err – obvious it goes about doing it.
I’m fine with everything I just mentioned – I wouldn’t want my Cure or Smiths records to exist without those so-obviously 80s drums, and concepts like “melody” and “hope” are like garlic bread to me, without having to worry about the fat content. My problem with Rival Dealer is that there are some excesses within its two long ones that just remind me of how Kindred EP used every second so perfectly – hate to say it, but the middle section of “Come Down to Us” could probably have afforded to lose a few pounds. Meanwhile, the first third of “Rival Dealer” does the stop-start motion of “Kindred,” except because the beat here is so much more beatier (for lack of a better word), those motions are less fluid-like (though it speaks volumes of this man’s genius that they’re not as nauseating as such similar shifts can sometimes be). Furthermore, I’m not convinced at all of the second section of the track (starting at the 4:58 mark), which fees like a forced bridge between the first section and last 3 minutes of nighttime ambience, and the track doesn’t segue into “Hiders” nearly as much as it would like to. In other words, “Rival Dealer”, the track, does little for me, and it’s the lead and title cut and makes up a third of the EP, so that should be taken into account. Finally, “Hiders” just seems like a dry-run for “Come Down to Us,” which builds a cooler looking contraption out of the same LEGO kit – the chord progression throughout “Hiders” isn’t at all inventive, especially troubling for someone who deals with that adjective as much as Burial does, and the drums that push “Come Down to Us” into its positive conclusion (at the 9:12 mark), aren’t just thrown on top of the familiarized melody, it’s given its own section.
When Burial released Truant / Rough Sleeper around the exact same time the year before, I rushed to listen to it as people like me are wont to do. I was left disappointed by it all, because I wasn’t given a reason to listen to that EP overKindred EP. As mentioned, Rival Dealer isn’t perfect, but this one has something that Kindred EP had less of. This one has “just fucking emotionally resonatingmusic” as well as “good music,” and that’s why, though it might not be the best Burial EP, it is currently my favorite.