>>> by Beak>Release date: September 21, 2018
Label: Invada/Temporary Residence
Beak> is one of those rare bands that manages to sound familiar yet alien, straightforward yet odd, simple but subtly complex. Their delightfully oddball approach to kraut rock inspired, synth heavy, noisey, vaguely pop(?) music is as refreshing as it is unique. On the release of their outstanding third album >>> they’ve grown into not only a tighter and more cohesive unit but also somehow become even more unpredictable than they were on their previous releases.
The most notable differences in this album as compared to their prior efforts is the production and composition. Where earlier Beak> albums all sounded great, there was an intentional roughness, likely a reaction to the cookie-cutter-on-the-grid-perfect aspect of much of modern music. >>> is still just as raw and off kilter but the sounds of the instruments are clearer and the individual performances are tighter.
Part of this comes from the newest member keyboardist Will Young’s more textured approach. Previous keyboards on Beak> albums tended to be harsh and rhythmically aggressive, Young sits back a bit (except for some brief Wakeman-esque freakouts in ‘King Of The Castle’) and allows the bass, drums and vocals to drive the songs. That’s not to say the keyboards aren’t still important, they just don’t dominate the mix as they once did. Billy Fuller’s bass sounds better than ever with an impressive range of sounds and the ability to make even the simplest of basslines feel hefty. The nimble, fuzzy bass and drum groove of the opening song ‘The Brazilian’ quickly establishes the deft interplay between bass and drums that is the basis for much of Beak>’s music.
Compositionally Beak> has become more focused and seemingly confident. The vocals are louder and more clear allowing the melodies of the songs (the ones with vocals that is) to really shine. On previous Beak. albums the song arrangement had the tendency to feel stream of conciousness but here on >>> the songs are more carefully constructed. ‘Brean Down’ with its ominously driving bass lines, horror movie synths and warbly, modulated guitars could stand on it’s own but it’s drummer Geoff Barrow’s vocals that really pull the song together and make it almost radio friendly, almost. The spacey and heartfelt ‘Harvester’ is deceptively simple with it’s structure and again Barrow’s reverb soaked vocals really shine. Album closer ‘When We Fall’ which was previously released on an EP in 2015 has been reimagined with a new outro section and is still a high point for the band with it’s poignant, understated beauty and AM radio guitar loop giving way to a brooding groove buffeted by strings. ‘When We Fall’ was originally released under the alter ego of KAEB and it seems like it’s inclusion here signifies that Beak> is throwing out all of their previous rules and embracing their ability produce a wide range of songs regardless of their dissimilarities.
Often times the descriptor “cinematic” gets thrown around to describe bands whose songs tend to be long, slow building affairs. But cinematic is a great way to describe what Beak> has created on their third album >>>. Each of the 10 songs play out like a series of mini-themes for B-movies across just as many genres as their music. ‘Birthday Suit’ and ‘Teisco’ are both pure sci-fi while ‘Alleu Sauvage’ could be the theme to pretty much any vintage espionage movie. ‘When We Fall’ and ‘Harvester’ could both serve as the end credits to oddball indie films and the dissonant intro to ‘Abbots Leigh’ could belong in the tensest of horror films. The soundtrack like qualities of >>> make the entire album transcend the expectations of what a 3-piece rock (?) band can sound like and contributes directly to genre blurring that makes Beak> so compelling.
Beak> is a band that exists in those often crossed but never lingered in lines between both genre and time. Their use of vintage sounds but their forward thinking compositions make them sound like the future and the past at the same time. Nailing them down to one genre is impossible and their uniqueness is quite welcome in an age of increasing compartmentalization of bands. >>> is easily their best album and hopefully affords them greater success, the world needs more weird stuff that is not only perplexing but also easy to like and actually fun to listen to.