January 01, 1970



Portishead might not be renowned
for their work-rate, but lately Geoff Barrow has kept busy running his Invada
label, co-producing the Horrors and, most recently, getting together with
BEAK>. Despite his high profile, though, Barrow isn’t at the top of the
pecking order in BEAK>, an equal partnership with two fellow Bristol
musicians: keyboard/synth
fiddler Matt Williams (Team Brick) and bassist Billy Fuller (Fuzz Against Junk;
Malakai). Barrow takes a literal back seat, at the drum kit, and while he contributes sporadic vocals, they’re not
exactly conventional front-man fare; rather, his disembodied, reverb-treated
Damo Suzuki-style moaning gives the impression that he’s in a different room
from the other musicians.


BEAK> blend Krautrock homage
with a tangential kind of psychedelia — think Terry Riley, Silver Apples and
early Floyd (the spacey variant, not the whimsical one) — all interspersed
with Conradian drones, some proggy organ, a contemporary noise sensibility and
rumblings of doom metallurgy. It’s a heady mixture. However, this is hardly new
territory for Barrow, Fuller and Williams, and the material shows kinship with
their other endeavors: there’s continuity with Team Brick’s cacophonous
experimentalism and the occasional cosmic weirdness of Fuzz Against Junk, and
the record also revisits a few key influences on Portishead’s Third and the Horrors’ Primary Colours in its affection for the
Teutonic motorik and Simeon Coxe’s primitive electronics.


Given the band members’ pedigrees,
BEAK> qualify as a supergroup of sorts. But whereas such entities are often
infamous for bloated projects involving endless hours in various studios,
perhaps in different countries, BEAK> wrote and recorded this album in under two weeks, in one
room, without overdubs or after-the-fact finessing — just some editing. In
fact, a couple of the tracks were only ever performed twice. It’s tempting to
see this no-frills, less-is-more approach as a reaction to some of their own
previous experiences: Fuller played on Robert Plant’s Mighty Rearranger and the never-ending, still-in-progress fifth
Massive Attack album; the perfectionist Barrow, of course, worked for four
years or so on the last Portishead record.


immediacy of BEAK>’s modus operandi leaps out at listeners. Befitting the
material’s essentially live genesis and construction, there’s a strongly
organic, jam-based feel to much of it. For the most part, the individual
contributions quickly coalesce and attain critical mass. Propelled by Fuller’s pulsing bass, “Iron Acton” gets into a
straight-ahead “Mother Sky” groove, while the Silver Apples-esque
“I Know” hits its stride with a more syncopated, Barrow-powered
drive. “Pill” kicks off like Tony Conrad and
Faust before gathering momentum to suggest PiL playing “Church of
Anthrax.” Indeed, someone trying just a little too hard might go so far as
to say that Lydon’s outfit is playfully referenced in the track title,
“Pill,” which is actually a village near Bristol. (Like many other
Bristol artists, BEAK> show a sense of place, something that’s conveyed here
in most of the titles, which borrow the names of West Country locales. There
even seems to be a pub among them: “The Cornubia.”)


Not everything here centers on
hypnotic, repeating patterns: the almost idyllic “Battery Point” is a
more melodic exercise in Mogwai-like slow-building intensity, and the mildly
distressing “Ham Green” lumbers along, punctuated with doomy riffs
and fleeting cartoon-metal solos; the unhinged, chaotic interlude “Barrow
Gurney” more than lives up to its title, which — aside from incorporating
the vocalist’s name — namechecks a defunct West Country psychiatric hospital
(also immortalized by Somerset’s legendary Wurzels in their magisterial “Drink up Thy Zider“: “We’m off to Barrow Gurney / For to see my brother Ernie”).


Just as improvisation and jamming
can lend themselves to some transcendent creative synergy, they can also spawn
some less than interesting work, and a few tracks fall into that category,
meandering and failing to come together in any compelling way: “Dundry
Hill,” for example, lurches aimlessly for too long, and “Ears Have
Ears” calls to mind Can’s “Yoo Doo Right,” a song that was
tiresome enough the first time around.


But these quibbles are incidental
to the overall strength of the material. With BEAK>, Messrs Barrow, Fuller
and Williams have hatched a fine album.


Standout Tracks: “Backwell,”
“Iron Acton,” “I Know” WILSON NEATE


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