In recent years, krautrock has become the go to genre for revisitation and revival. Much like post-punk and its own early ‘00’s dusting off, this German-prized form of experimental rock music provides an endless supply of suggestions to run with. Portishead’s Geoff Barrow has been one of the more successful krautrock scientists. He added just enough of it to the Horrors’ critically lauded second LP to make that band stop being a joke. Barrow then went on to release an album under his own kraut-tinged side-project, Beak>. Seeing as Beak>’s >, as well as the Horrors’ Primary Colours, came out in 2009, adding krautrock embellishments in 2012 doesn’t feel very revolutionary. In capable hands, pleasurable listening experiences can still happen, so thank goodness Barrow and his mates are an adept bunch.
One of >>‘s greatest assets is its creep appeal. While the first Beak> outing was almost entirely instrumental, >> has upped the ante by bringing some nigh unintelligible vocals into the mix. On most of these songs, vocal tracks sound like a persistent moaning from beneath the listener’s floorboards. On the album’s standout, “Wulfstan II”, an unrelenting guitar riff makes the song’s other doomy elements all the more impactful. Another of >>’s greater attributes is it truly sounds at home in the era when krautrock first boomed. A few psych flourishes further compliment the vintage feel, and the eerie noises which open “The Gaul” and “Egg Dog” are reminiscent of the soundtracks for one of Dario Argento’s horror films from the 1970’s.
Still, despite its recent resurgence, krautrock is very much a “muso”-friendly genre as opposed to a mainstream one. Just because the Horrors successfully managed to get a bunch of teenagers to bop their heads along to a motorik beat, such rosy skies cannot be promised for every band, particularly if they are a trio of slightly older, anonymous types who favor inscrutable vocals over a more straightforward delivery. Much like the debut, >> is treated like a puzzle, with odd song names (“Yatton,” the aforementioned “Egg Dog”) and few clear-cut clues. A few Portishead diehards who failed to listen to > may also be left in a bewildered state following an initial listen of >>; although Barrow’s flagship band showed a lot of growth on 2008’s Third, this ain’t trip hop. While that is mostly a good thing, at times >> risks becoming mired in self-indulgence. Fortunately, the album’s most blatantly self-indulgent tune, the plodding “Kidney”, is reserved for the very end.
Although >> is mostly a nice progression from Beak>’s debut, I can’t help but admit that the promo photos is the best thing the band has done: three faceless dummies pose in band t-shirts and torn denim. Although made up to look like Barrow, Billy Fuller, and Matt Williams, they also work as a commentary on the interchangeability of the average scruffy indie band. This photo alone raises more questions than any of Beak>’s growing chronology, although the more musically-inclined have probably been awake nights pondering just how the band mastered this or that krautish sound. A dense listen, although it could very well feel like child’s play by the time >>> comes out.