Fists and feelings, muscle and moodiness: Kode9 and Burial cut opposite but complementary figures. For years the Hyperdub boss and his label’s elusive leading star have carved out distinct approaches to dance music aimed (respectively) at triggering listener’s fight-or-flight responses and tugging at their heart strings. Both emerged from dubstep as a common starting point. Kode9 ran with the genre’s weighted swing, layering tracks with ultra-fine detail while retaining the style’s punchy dynamism. Burial homed in on the air of romance emanating from garage and 2-step, chasing their space and atmosphere until the beat fell out from his music completely.

Burial is anonymous to the point of caricature while Kode9 is professorial in a politely punkish way; neither artist seems overly concerned with stoking a cult of personality. If the two were a little more complicit in their own meme, they might have wielded their Tom-and-Jerry buddy dynamic with a little more flair. But because there are about three pictures of Burial in circulation and the odds are slim of the duo ever posing for a silly Mike & Rich-style photo shoot, their tandem return has gotten a characteristically low-key rollout: a mysterious London billboard, a re-aired Mary Anne Hobbes mix, and the hushed word of mouth that a new collaborative EP was on the horizon.

London nightclub fabric has brought the two artists together again after their 2018 entry in their FABRICLIVE series to release Infirmary / Unknown Summer. The record is easy listening rather than guns blazing, a laid-back pair of tracks warped around the edges by drowsy July heat. If these songs are meant as a dialogue between the two friends, the subject seems to be the weirder properties of summertime: all of the ways in which time melts and distends as temperatures increase.

In its looped and swelling jazz samples, Kode9’s “Infirmary” recalls another classic of Hyperdub high summer, DJ Rashad’s Double Cup, although at some points it resembles the record a little bit too literally. The sheer massiveness of Rashad’s horn samples aimed to conjure a cityscape in sound, while the same instruments on the oddly titled track don’t telegraph “sickbed” so much as “genre exercise.” Footwork has an obvious appeal for Kode9, presenting an opportunity for him to flex his muscles as a producer and also go really, really fast. His approach is like a particularly elegant Rube Goldberg machine, crafting music that’s more complex than it needs to be, and all the more impressive for how smoothly it fires off. He makes his clearest personal mark on the genre by substituting its relentless hi-hat with a muted hydraulic rattle that he interlaces with streaks of grime synths, imparting an artificial iciness that pairs nicely with the warm swell of the horns. Even if the choice of sample isn’t the most inspired, the interplay between the song’s breezy flow and sophisticated, ultra-kinetic rhythm is compelling in its own right, creating a small temporal rift between sweaty nostalgia and bracing air-conditioner coolness.

Burial swerved into pure ambient with his Antidawn and Streetlands EPs, but “Unknown Summer” is a Burial song with a beat again! The drums remain fairly flimsy throughout, playing second fiddle to his synth washes and processed vocals, but they provide a subtle pulse and, more importantly, solid ground for a listener to sit upon while they stargaze into the mix. Despite its title, “Unknown Summer” is markedly clearer than anything on his most recent releases, which have been as dense and despairing and fog-ridden as Silent Hill or a Goya painting. Over faintly perceptible dub synths, snatches of dialogue melt and smear across the mix, bleeding into muted impressionist fireworks over the emptiness of the track.

Occasionally a little boy intones, “It’s just you alone, peace and quiet—nothing around you but clear blue sky.” It’s a signpost of feeling that’s a little too on the nose about the vibe that Burial aspires to capture—like that old creative-writing no-no, telling rather than showing. That’s been a problem in Burial’s latter-day output, although he recovers lost subtlety in the song’s second half. The beat is more pronounced but dusky, and it dawns on the listener that the light is fading fast from Burial’s summer day. The setting sun over this faded, bucolic landscape is the flipside of Kode9’s sweaty urban rush.

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Kode9 / Burial: Infirmary / Unknown​ ​Summer EP