Beak's Third Album, >>>, Is Their Most Focused and Succinct Work Yet
Coupled with a sharper sound and stronger hooks, Beak's >>> stands as the band's most engaging album to date.
21 September 2018
Beak have always been a band who have worn their imperfections with pride. Every crack, blemish, and dent has always been displayed as war wounds from the creative process. Both their debut, Beak > and second album, >> were recorded quickly and spontaneously with no sticking plasters or overdubs. They were wholly representative of exactly what happened in that room when the three members tapped into each other's musical flow.
New album >>> retains that freedom of their previous work but this time out the band have taken more time with the songs. Crafting them over the course of a year, the songs on the album feel like a natural progression for the trio, made up Portishead's Geoff Barrow, Billy Fuller, and Will Young. The result is a much more focused and succinct album with even the longer songs following a clearly set path rather than embarking on a journey with the destination yet to be determined.
Claustrophobic opening track "The Brazilian" sounds like it was recorded in a cramped, windowless room. Swirling, ominous synths and glitchy electronics make way for a monolithic, bone dry, guitar riff. At just over four minutes it would just about qualify as an intro for American art-noise rockers Swans, but it does share a similar aesthetic. A shared appreciation of robust, repetitive, rhythmic figures that feel as if bolted together all wrapped in brooding, murky atmospherics.
Anchored by Barrow's mechanical, Krautrock drumming and Wilder's propulsive bass, "Brean Down" gives the impression of a song in constant motion. Coupled with surging synth runs and Barrows' deep vocals that prowl around the mix, it stands as one of the band's most fully realized songs to date, with every hook burrowing itself almost subcutaneously.
The trio slow things down markedly on "Birthday Suit". Funereal, synths and Barrow's compacted vocals combine to enclose the song in a dark, audio canopy with the only light provided by a circling synth figure, that darts around the mix as if frantically searching for an escape. Throughout the album, Barrow's vocals are a mix of outrage and nervous agitation, coming across like a lost tragi-comedic character from a Samuel Beckett play.
"Allé Sauvage" is the epic centerpiece of the album. For just over seven minutes the band set various sonic plates spinning in unison as sounds swoop and whirl to the point of falling before being respun and gaining fresh momentum. Steadily the song locks into a captivating, narcotic groove with Barrow's urgent drumming driving the song forwards. Before the song becomes overwhelmingly hypnotic a sharp, a sci-fi keyboard line slices through the mix.
With a deep, throbbing bassline like a motorbike idling at a crossroads "Teisco" feels like an analogue artifact with suffocating, muted sounds saturating the space like sand slowly filling a locked room. Thankfully, the mechanized funk workout of "King of the Castle" throws the door wide open. With pumping keys, the track is an invigorating psychedelic workout replete with a spaced out prog keyboard solo to finish.
The mood doesn't stay up for long though as the jarring electronics of "Abbots Leigh" suck the listener in as if trapped in a nightmarish scene from an Ingmar Bergman film. As the sorrowful organ traipses on, the mood is slit by a mournful guitar line that provides much-needed light, like a flickering candle in an otherwise empty church. Album closer "When We Fall" is a beautiful slice of pastoral, '60s folk that, musically, wouldn't sound out of place on a Roy Harper record. That is until the song closes with a flurry of psychedelic strings that see the album out on a colorful wave of hope.
Beak's third album is, at times a dark and oppressive album but still full of light and shade. The trio create a definite mood that runs through the album and as such the album feels like it has a greater sense of purpose. Coupled with a sharper sound and stronger hooks, >>> stands as the band's most engaging album to date.