Beak> are a band very much out of time. They’ve held a definite presence over the Bristol and UK rock scenes over the last decade, but it’s of an eerily gothic form – their mossy, spectral music being something that you know you’ve heard somewhere but can’t really place or lay a finger on. Through their two albums, 2009’s > and 2012’s >>, their nascent blend of bass-driven motorik jams, wobbly bedroom synths and pale disembodied vocals created a decidedly unheimlich effect on your senses. Like the dark sibling of Broadcast, they are the music equivalent of the unrecognisable scream in the forest, the sense of being watched, the catching of something (or someone) in the corner in your eye that disappears when you turn around.
But while it’s been six years since >>, they haven’t been silent. There was a whole album of bonus tracks released in 2012, a live album with the BBC in 2013, and a series of singles and Eps, notably their split EP with themselves, ‘Beak> >>, which confirms the band over the years have undergone a slow but definite metamorphosis from a group reliant on live jams and in-the-moment creativity into a unit showing a definite identity, an approach, an ethos.
Make no mistake, >>> is undeniably a Beak> album, from the unpretentious air in how they go about their business right down to the circular riffs of Billy Fuller and Will Young, and Geoff Barrow’s perpetual drumming style. But there have been big changes in their approach in putting >>> together. With > and >>, most of the music was recorded live with next to no overdubs over several days each and the results were fuzzy, mottled, pig-iron tracks that brandished their rawness and impurities like a badge of honour. On >>>, while everything was recorded live in the Invada label’s studio, the album took a year to make and much more care and finesse has been put into the music in terms of mixing and post-production. This has given the songs a level of refinement and focus.
The opening two tracks, ‘The Brazilian’ and ‘Brean Down’, highlight the new-look box-fresh Beak>. Whereas their early tracks were decidedly reliant on Fuller’s grungy, gritty bass, here there is more balance between the three members, allowing the grooves and elements to play off each other. ‘The Brazilian’, a minimal synth-rock beast, begins with fluttering electronics that could be found in the opening credits to a 1970s TV programme titled ‘Unexplained Happenings’, before a cascading riff clatters into a claustrophobic groove. ‘Brean Down’ is pretty much Can on a massive freakish comedown as Barrow’s reverb-heavy whipcrack snares drives the beat, with Young and Fuller providing the queasy, sweat heft. With their anxious energy, disturbed worldview, and sharpened production, these songs highlight how much Beak> have progressed and evolved as a band since their early jam days.
Elsewhere in >>>, we see Beak> subtly expand their sound palette. ‘Birthday Suit’ and ‘Teisco’ run in a similar vein to Barrow’s synth side project Drokk – their muffled, hemmed-in, degraded quality makes them sound like highlights from a collection of 80s underground electronic cassette releases recently excavated from someone’s attic. At the other end of the spectrum, on tracks like stripped-down elegiac rocker ‘Harvester’ and dry pub prog number ‘King of the Castle’, Barrow’s vocal pushes past the smeared patina of mumbled atmospherics that seems to harness a cold stately energy.
But while >>> sees Beak> take on a deeper sense of complexity and balance, they are still committed to scratching what they see as their integral core of wrongness, that sense of unease that their music is meant to invoke. And this is evident in ‘Abbots Leigh’, a screeching blast of gothic melodrama that eventually coalesces in a slouching throb of giallo creep and high tension with deep reds and piercing moonlight.
The abiding centre of Beak>´s sound is one that has an oblique offness to it, something that you certainly wouldn’t describe the music from the likes of Public Service Broadcasting or Baltic Fleet. Another thing that separates Beak> from such generic associates is their lack of po-faced wallowing in nostalgia. >>> might cast an eye on the same mood-inspiration material of 70s avant rock and 80s chilled post-punk, but this album is no trite, bland replication.
Share this article:
Tue Sep 18 20:33:21 CEST 201860
My mate Pete said the old krautrock job’s gone to my head. Clocking in, clocking out, tripping on drums, dwelling in organ drone – that’ll do a man in, he said. He’s kidding, right? I mean, my old man hasn’t even touched a toothbrush for decades, and he’s still got all his pearly whites (well, more like smoky greys, but he’s got ‘em). I’ve had nothing but my BEAK> records for six years – no harm in that, eh? Geoff Barrow’s a good chum. And that old trip hop bunch he mucked around in the Portishead days dealt with the real hard narcs, I hear. These Bristol boys just fiddle with good, clean dread – well, not clean, I guess. Silver and apple-y, more like. Gives you that nice, tiny spine tingle when the world’s too bright for shadows to creep up on ya, you know?>>> by Beak>
Doctor, I’m at a loss. I thought this was an era for infinite possibilities, for unending inspiration, fool-proof get-rich schema. But for the past two weeks, I sit down at my computer, open a Word doc, and my fingers cease to dance. What do I feel? What do I feel, indeed. The very notion of sensation evaporates whenever I sit down to work. People laugh and cry and shout around me, and I can’t fathom how they tap those emotional reserves. The future contains only the same featureless fog as the present. All I can conjure is the slightest vexation, an annoyance as wispy as a newly-hatched spider (should those frighten me?).
Well, yes, I have listened to the new BEAK>. Incessantly, as a matter of fact. And I must say, the hallucinations that they promised on the tin haven’t spooked me as much as I’d like. Doctor, have you ever been disappointed by a dream? An apparition grants you the spouse that your subconscious always desired, and then the alarm screams and you’re alone, even though that whiff of ecstasy still lingers. The way I see it, >>> is not that vision, but the trace. Dated, doctor. A wavering shadow. They even acknowledge such with that Can-like trance, ‘Brean Down’ – who else would cite radio airplay as a measure of relevance, save for someone stuck in an archaic void?
Reviewed the prescription again. Can’t figure out if the medication’s working or not. The psychedelic aspects, such as ‘Harvester’, can trigger nostalgia in some patients, but lethargy seems to swing out of control in others. And the research still hasn’t determined if the Hawkwind miniature ‘King of the Castle’ has any desirable effect (I believe the term my colleagues settled on for that potential reaction was “camp as Christmas”).
If we look to the previous literature, we find that no components of >>> are particularly novel. ‘Abbots Leigh’ continues the ongoing horror motorik initiated in 2016’s soundtrack to Couple In A Hole; alternate folk relic ‘When We Fall’ was lifted directly from the 2015 interlude EP BEAK> <KAEB. Curious, indeed – three years ago, BEAK> presented that bittersweet refrain as their alterego, a mirror image isolated from their own. Now that we’ve cast aside the reflection, the mirror itself seems false, as if only another colleague were standing in the frame instead.
Quite peculiar. We’ll have to run more trials.
Tue Nov 20 13:27:10 CET 2018