It isn’t very often that I stumble across a record released in this Foul Year Of Our Lord 2018 that inspires me to throw down 500-or-so words on it. But this isn’t the only aspect that makes the ingeniously-named Beak> something of an anomaly on the increasingly bland and disparate desert of modern sounds. The three piece, featuring one dude each from Portishead, Golden God Robert Plant’s band, and Moon Gangs, doesn’t sound anything like any other band currently in operation. The blend of genres they mark as their territory, fuzzed-out stoner doom riffs, outer-stratosphere trip hop, classic rock posturing, ’70s Euro art house soundtracks, are so far outside the barrier lines of current trends it’s obvious from the first notes that the dudes of Beak> truly DGAF. It is this unified vision that makes their third record, titled >>> (you can guess what the first two were titled), come on so organic and fully-realized. The trio rehearsed this record hard before laying it down on tape and took the care to record it all live in the studio before tinkering with edits and punch-ins. We cannot confirm if >>> was recorded in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of a cold and fashionable European metropolis, but it certainly sounds as if it was. So we’re just going to state as a fact that it was and dare Beak>’s management team, if there is one, to call us out on it.
In order to find truly sinister sounds these days you would normally have to turn to the Soundcloud rap subset, so it was with a major rush of surprised relief that the first fluttery synth notes of “The Brazilian” washed over me, giving way to a creeping, muffled bass line like a stalker on a dark side street in a deserted business district and free-floating siren wails. This is true chills music right here, the perfect soundtrack for an early ’70s Italian ero-horror exploitation flick that exists only in the band’s mind. Then, just when I’d written The Beak> off as ambient wizards for midnight sounds, they hit me with the sneaky left hook of “Brean Down” which starts off with a galloping rhythm that only intensifies as the track progresses. It’s a surprise when the double-tracked vocals kick in on the first of two dread-inducing but highly melodic verses, sliding seductively into lusciously catchy choruses where whichever Beak> member is singing croons “Try to be someone” with enough weighted ennui to sink several Titanics. It’s a key track, this “Brean Down”, not only for the album but the year as well. And when the whole thing spirals off after the the second chorus, a minute-long lesson in perfectly controlled and executed chaos magic, I realized this also could well be a track of the decade.
If the tingling, searching, quietly eviscerating “Birthday Suit” isn’t played, in full, over the closing credits of a dark indie crossover sometime soon then it’s the world’s loss. When that simple, looping Korg line comes in at the 2:45 mark over the space-stabbing Tangerine Dream key twinklings, one could close their eyes and be transported to a dark corner of a Berlin goth club in 1986, even if they’re standing in a Target parking lot in suburban Maryland. “Harvester” sounds like what would happen if the post-Syd Floyd had still tried to follow their madcap founder’s path, a saucer full of stately grooves grounded by a rock solid chorus and a nagging, underpinning bass line that keeps the track from taking off into Dark Side territory. It’s this tension between melodic possibilities and the need to sabotage them that makes >>> such an interesting listen.
Is that a sample of spinning helicopter blades that kicks off “Teisco”? If so, that’s a strangely bold noise to start out such a quiet, understated instrumental, a brief two minute cleansing ritual before they slam us with a one-two blast of motorik madness in “King Of The Castle” and “RSI”. Unlike, say, Moon Duo or other modern beardies mining the Kraut goldmine, Beak> doesn’t look to the obvious Germanic sources like CAN or Neu! for inspiration, more so taking after lesser cited Krauts like Krokodile. Those in the know could even locate a bit of classic-period Emerson, Lake & Palmer in the mid-song breakdown on “Castle”. Beak> may be an icily cool band, but they aren’t afraid to veer into some tantalizingly uncool territory from time to time on this record.
Closer “When We Fall” sounds like what would might have happened if Mamas and the Pappas had teamed up with the Byrds and the results were covered by The Bangles. With it’s chiming, slow-plucked electric gee-tar, woozy mellatron, string-drenched ending, and hazed-out crooning about “returning to the sea”, it’s an entirely suitable close to this consistently unpredictable, highly cinematic, and entirely refreshing record.
Word of advice to the members of Beak>: Dissolve Portishead, quit Robert Plant’s band, and kick Moon Gangs to the curb. Beak> should be your main gig.
Key Tracks: The Brazilian, Brean Down, Birthday Suit, When We Fall