Arriving as a black label 12” single bereft of any sort of labeling or text, the Four Tet/Burial split couldn’t be any less conspicuous. Despite this fact, many are likely to seek it out, as it finds two of the U.K.‘s most celebrated electronic artists—shadowy dubstep prodigy Burial and folktronica mainstay Four Tet—joining forces to produce one of the year’s most-interesting collaborations. While the fruit of the two producers’ labors is admittedly, less than surprising (close your eyes, imagine what it would sound like to listen to a Four Tet song and a Burial song simultaneously, and you’re halfway there), these two tracks more than make up for its predictability with a depth and textural richness that’s all-too rare in a world full of hastily cobbled-together collaborations.
“Moth”, or at least the song that the blogosphere consensus seems to have decided is “Moth” (no labeling, remember?) sounds, for the most part, like a Four Tet remix of a Burial song. The beat hits like dull thuds in 4/4 time, plodding along steadily while a chopped-up, compressed synth ascends in the background. Soon, a Burial-esque female vocal wafts in, hanging like a veil over the twinkling tones that bubble up from below. The track builds slowly, as many Four Tet tracks do, reaching its apex just shy of the eight-minute mark before disassembling itself piece by piece, leaving only the sound of distant chimes at its close.
“Wolf Cub”, meanwhile, sounds more like Burial remixing a Rounds-era Four Tet track. It opens with what sounds like a swirling sea of chopped-up harpsichord notes and shimmering-synth arpeggios soon get layered on top. At just past the two-and-a-half minute mark, everything quiets down, making way for the clickety-clack of Burial’s trademark two-step beat. Eventually, it all comes together in a rich, heady mix: Dulcet tones whiz by at a breakneck pace; a hazy voice coos unintelligibly; and a synth line fills out the low-end. It’s an ephemeral yet firmly rooted song, and a track that evokes whimsical fantasy as much as grimy realism.
While we have no way of knowing whether these tracks are remixes, joint compositions or something else entirely, the distinction is hardly important. “Moth”/“Wolf Cub” succeeds because it feels like a collaboration in the truest sense of the word—a piece of music that subsumes the identities of both artists even as it emphasizes their differences.