Formed in 2009 by Geoff Barrow of Portishead to explore the annuls of krautrock, Beak> are probably one of the most interesting recent bands to fixate on the minimalist and analogue through repetition and augmentation. The usual tendencies are all there: the emphasis on the cracks in the form of rock music itself, rejecting typical structure, and a spaced out ambient quality to the relentless grooves themselves. Basically, if you’ve heard Can, or Faust, or Neu, nothing here is going to break new ground specifically – it is very much a genre exercise – but it’s always been a worthwhile one at that. However, contemporary krautrock records often play like wringing out a towel which is already essentially dry, but buying into the monastic attention to texture and timbre that characterises the best that the genre has to offer can still wield great results that avoid the pitfalls of needless nostalgia.
The key perhaps lies in preventing the inevitable sense of pastiche bleeding into the material itself, as krautrock was never designed to look back. It was a modernist reaction to the onset of technology becoming the new mediators of music making. The combination of that new technology being utilised to its full potential with the ever-present emphasis on human performance and bodily rhythms was the confusion of figuring out how the fuck we co-exist with these purveying bleep bloops.
>>> feels like Beak> are trying their best to make a genuine go at making a break from your average kraut-fetishisms. They cover a tonne of ground stylistically, and with the relentless box checking of signifiers comes an opportunity to maybe escape the form itself. However, the band are happy to put their own individual spin on the sound, which succeeds in giving them a signature sound but fails to break with the key conventions. It’s a bit like a party bag, or a taster menu. You get a little bit of everything. Opener ‘The Brazilian’ is Sabbath-tinged garage jam with cheap bait-and-switch dynamic trickery, ‘Harvester’ is a surprisingly charming and almost cheeky nod to 70’s Americana, and ‘Teisco’ is an uber-minimalist synth interlude that sounds like being trapped inside a sentient simulation machine that’s about to kick the bucket.
The most satisfying aspects of earlier material from the group was the alien sense of kinetic motion within the music, and a feeling that while the obvious genre markers were there, they were sort of obscured by the music’s ability to draw you in to its orbit and captivate you. While this album absolutely has many enjoyable moments, it feels like the UFO has landed and we’ve all gotten desensitised to what we see, rather than being caught up in the spectacle of what we don’t understand.
To maybe bring it down to Earth slightly, you could forgive the occasional incongruity of >>> by just buying in to what it has to offer. If your familiar with this kind of music then you’ll like and recognise what’s there to please you, and occasionally be wowed by the more pensive moments. I just can’t shake the feeling that Beak> have maybe overcooked this one.
‘>>>’ by BEAK> IS AVAILABLE NOW VIA INVADA RECORDS.