We all know about the "Difficult Second Album" — the oft-rushed record made amid suffocating expectations and incessant touring. But some follow-ups not only make good on a promising debut but also retroactively imbue the entire enterprise with more intrigue than could have been recognized at the start. In 2007, M.I.A.'s Kala and LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver entered the ranks of this special kind of second album, and so did Burial's Untrue.
Part of the allure of dubstep, the sound that Burial — an anonymous London musician — helped establish, is that it's so sparse and elemental that it eludes description almost by design: To formally address the qualities of dubstep is to paradoxically do damage to its most evocative parts — the parts that aren't there, the haunted parts, the spectral spaces that surround the tangible sounds and make it all happen through the force of their very absence. It's complicated, but it's also extremely compelling — and more immediately so on Untrue than it was on the self-titled 2006 debut that made Burial's name.
Untrue benefits from the conspicuous presence of vocals that prove newly forceful and free. Whereas voices served as atmospheric agents on the debut, here they drive tracks into the space of certifiable songs. “Archangel” announces the change at the start, with a mercury-mouthed male diva singing about “kissing you” and “holding you” in desperate, unsettling tones. A similar strategy plays out in “Near Dark,” in which the vocal sentiment in the refrain “I can't take my eyes off you” applies just as much to ears.
The way that Burial foregrounds vocals as melody-makers veers back toward 2-step garage, the poppy post-jungle sound that ultimately evolved into grime and then into dubstep. The formal lures of dubstep proper remain here, but they also sound more kinetic and progressive. Even when the voices fade and drift like mist in the background, there are moods to be gleaned from the beats — the ticks and trips that toggle like drum 'n'bass risen from the grave as something irretrievably decayed but also irresistibly angelic.