It was a big story, last December, when Burial, Four Tet and Thom Yorke released “Her Revolution/His Rope”. For many reasons. First of all – it happened almost ten years after their first collaborative effort “Ego/Mirror”, and without any prior announcement. Secondly – the initial release consisted of 300 black label vinyl records distributed over three stores where they sold out in no time, much to the dismay of quite a few fans.
Understandably – we are talking about three artists that each have a very devoted followership. What they have in common – apart from a life fully dedicated to music – is that they all do whatever they please to do, not caring much about things that refer to trends, market needs, label politics or other petty concerns. And come to think of it – the latter is actually a simple consequence of the former.
Reading about what reviewers have to say about this release as well as the first one in 2011 is showing a strange form of musical vivisection – most of the commentators seem to put the tracks through some kind of contribution analysis algorithm that must be located in the reviews area of the brain, saying who of the three dominates in which song more, and how that is either a problem or a good thing.
“His Rope” is a good example as this lyrically slightly depressing little piece is clearly seeing Thom Yorke in the spotlight, his voice far more in the foreground than on “Her Revolution”. Interestingly, this is seen as a reason to take a few points off, seemingly based on an assumption that the balance in this project will only be just right when the result of sending a track through contribution analysis is a neat 33,3% for each artist.
Criticism like that probably wouldn’t arise if there was a more “traditional” way of running this project and planning its releases, with an album and a single and all that stuff. People could talk about the great balance these three can find over the full extent of an album.
The reality is far from that – we don’t even know whether these are two new songs. There are some indications that they might have already been recorded in 2011 during the sessions for the first 12″. Yorke did hint at some additional songs that Hebden thought were just too dark, and listening to “His Rope” it’s easy to conclude that he might be referring to this song.
If that’s the case the question would obviously be why publish this in 2020, and as soon as that has been thought the answer is already on the table – because 2020 is not even remotely like 2011. As much as a song that features lyrics like “I cut a rope, step out, in an instant it’s all over” might have seemed too bleak back then, a song about sex and death and a rope to finish it all is clearly less inappropriate at the end of the year that brought us the first big pandemic of the 21st century.
But maybe the truth is much more simple here. Because if you really throw all the thoughts and doubts and theories and probabilities out of the window and simply listen to what this entirely black piece of vinyl has to deliver you might just as well say that the reason for putting these out is because they are works of art and that it would be a big waste of genius if we were kept from enjoying them.
Just listen. “His Rope”. How is it possible that these three gentlemen all but time travel back to the glory days of Trip Hop, grabbing all they need from Massive Attack’s heavenly “Teardrop” beat, and come back to our days with something that doesn’t even sound the slightest bit old school or nostalgic? It’s an amazing trick, and they even make it conceivable that folks listen to this and not even make that connection.
Maybe, just maybe it would be different if it wasn’t for Thom Yorke contributing his voice and these really stark lyrics. Already once he elevated something that was more or less labeled Trip Hop when he delivered that intense performance for “Rabbit In Your Headlight”, propelling it far beyond the genre label that no one ever liked very much anyway.
What makes this special is that what you can say about Thom Yorke – adding him to any project is like adding another dimension – is true for Burial and Four Tet as well, a triumvirate that bends mind and time.
Both songs are similarly slow and contemplative in its foundation, based on the “Teardrop” drum samples. As much as this may even not be the first time William Bevan a.k.a. Burial has used them – it does what it is supposed to do, providing just the right amount of structure for songs that are as delicate as they are haunting.
Part of the beauty of these tracks are the slightly unexpected elements that are strewn in or simply attached. “Her Revolution” received a recurring sitar melody that intertwines nicely with a deeper synth melody and the renditions of Thom Yorke whose voice is more an instrument than a conveyor of a message. For the final twenty seconds, a variation of the theme is added, a coda or an epilogue or just an emotional afterthought – something that is making you hope this might just be a fragment of something that is going to come in a hopefully not too distant future. Just not another ten years please.
“His Rope” with all its initial thoughts of suicide, sleeplessness and sex also features an unexpected and warm surprise, occasionally turning towards the hopeful and serene, voluminous synth chords padding the atmosphere with placability. Whoever was contemplating death in this song might just decide differently in the end.
To be honest – I really don’t care whether these tracks are new or five or ten years old. Yes, the way they were initially released might be worth a discussion if a discussion is desperately needed – otherwise I am just happy that these three gentlemen have found the time to record some music. Is Thom Yorke a little dominant on “His Rope”? Maybe – but I am sure the other two guys will just shrug at this comment, like, what do you expect, man, that we listen to the mix and think damn Thom is really dominant here? Get a life.
It took me almost half a year to get my fingers on this repress. That’s nothing compared to the nine years it took between the first and the second 12″. Time is not of the essence.
Release for review:
BURIAL + FOUR TET + THOM YORKE – HER REVOLUTION / HIS ROPE – XL RECORDINGS – XL1106T