Barrow, Fuller and Young with a third album of Beak> wrongness – sharper this time but just as uncanny

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> <Kaeb’ and 2017’s ‘Sex Music’, a brooding, low slung disco-rock anthem. From this mild stirring and shuffling in the shadows comes their third album, >>>, 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.

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