What is desire without an object? Nostalgia, by some formulations; the unresolvable yearning for what never was. What is desire without a subject? This record, I think, where voices curl like smoke in the night air, around nothing. Untrue is not nostalgic, though snatches of it sound like century-old apparitions carried forward, as if early phonographic experiments had suddenly drifted out over pirate airwaves, and some hand had pressed ‘record’ on their tape deck, just in time.
Desire speaks to nobody on this record; it speaks from no body. This is its revelation, and does that make it a new thing in pop music? Perhaps. Or an old thing remembered. That desire can go beyond the human, way beyond. Post-human: a construction of textures, pitch-shifted voices. Pre-human: desire as the root-note. As if longing was the steam that rose up after the rain, and that will outlast us, rising from concrete footpaths and the heavy angles of overpasses long after we disappear for good.
Everybody will talk about ‘Archangel’, of course (Arch angle? Where the flyover streaks above our heads?), is already talking about it, because it comes so early on the record, and because it does indeed sound like a new thing under the sun. A pop song that no one has heard before. At first it’s utterly bizarre, an Escher staircase of voices moving up and down pitches without any clear direction. ‘Holding you… kissing you… loving you’ but there’s nobody there, and each invocation is echoed by a plea to ‘be alone’. After several dozen listens it resolves itself into a melody you can follow, but that’s only because your synapses have been re-wired along the way. You can see the logic in any alien’s construction if you stare at it for long enough, though it will remain fundamentally strange. It doesn’t hurt that ‘Archangel’ has a killer beat, either, the Burial special: a half-time bass pulse interlaced with a drum pattern that sounds like it was recorded from deep inside a stormwater drain. There’s a deadness to these beats when they fall, they don’t crack out sharply. It’s the same kind of micro-echo that you get when you clap your hands together hard, and let the air between your palms be squashed flat. A rounded hollowness, if there is such a thing.
Right now my favourite is ‘Etched Headplate’, a song (if that’s the right term, and I’m really not sure that it is) that makes no more sense to me now than it did three weeks ago, upon first encounter. (And what is an etched headplate? An android with a serial number? A person with a turntable and stylus in place of a skull?). Everything here is stretched and warped: the bass, which lifts up like building panels in a steady wind, a huge whoomphing noise; the voices. The voices. Imagine Beyonce’s ‘Dangerously In Love’ with the yearning increased by about three thousand-fold and you’re somewhere near the emotion of it. Then picture that r’n’b voice splitting into three thousand glyphs. Content becomes form; meaning becomes the shape of those voices gliding and spiralling out, and then stopped, rewound, sent down several pitches between syllables. All that’s steady is the sound of the cigarette-lighter percussion, flicking on, off, on. It’s just gorgeous. Heart-bruisingly, brain-fryingly gorgeous.
Untrue is a very different record to last year’s Burial. Both share uncanniness, but whereas the first album carried at its core a menacing gravity akin to Source Direct’s ‘Stonekiller’ rewritten after a concussive fall down an elevator shaft, this second one creates an addictive weightlessness. Only the title track, interestingly enough, has the bottom-end pull that threatens to grind to a massive, foundation-sized halt. As for the rest, you could just about go mad trying to follow the spaces they lead to. And that, of course, might well be the point. As the closing ‘UK’ and ‘Raver’ hint, the elusive ecstasy of this record is the dream of a vanished rave culture. There are no crowds left, no communality. Just the trace that thousands of hands made, lifted up; the way they displaced the air. Untrue is mourning, certainly, but not nostalgia. It moves, in the end, forwards.
By Emmy Hennings