Geoff Barrow is currently in the middle of a kind of prolific streak. This, in itself, is news — his primary band, Portishead, has to date released only three albums in 18 years, though it’s not out of lack of effort. The band’s most recent album, 2008’s Third, was a masterwork in chilling sounds and claustrophobic atmosphere, a work of eerie brilliance that required both an attention to detail and a courtship with chaos. Yet outside of Portishead, Barrow more than maintains a full-time schedule in any number of projects, earlier this year releasing a hip-hop record under the name Quakers that featured 41 tracks and more than 30 guest emcees, and most recently issuing his second album with Billy Fuller and Matt Williams in krautrock outfit BEAK>, a project whose warm, throbbing repetitions could have been beamed straight from 1972.
BEAK>’s brand of krautrock is performed with a great deal of reverence, capturing the pulsing sonic textures of Can and Neu!. Every drumbeat feels as funky and warm as the rhythms of German veterans like Jaki Liebezeit and Klaus Dinger. And on the group’s 2009 debut, even the white-text-on-black cover seemed intended to pay homage to the similarly designed cover of Neu!’s Neu! `75, not to mention the group’s greater-than character substituting for an exclamation point. Where that album was captured via loose sessions without overdubs, follow-up >> has a similarly freely flowing feel, yet nonetheless one that’s more unsettling and ominous. Leadoff track “The Gaol” opens with warbling siren sounds that come off as highly troubling, to say the least, though this only creates an opening for a bass groove to ground these specters. It doesn’t make them any less eerie, of course, but they begin to make a little more sense, at least. That chill gets a slight warm-up on “Yatton,” a minimal pop track that very gradually adds extra layers of organ and guitar, and “Spinning Top” even initially passes for a “Vitamin C” analogue.
Reverent or not, BEAK> take their krautrock influences to sufficiently bizarre places on >>. Whatever familiar, earthy motoric pulses emerge throughout get sidelined by ghostly, sometimes beastly emissions. These crop up in the form of low-key creep-fest “Eggdog,” goth-rock stomper “Wulfstan,” or the quasi-industrial menace of “Kidney.” As cool as BEAK>’s more straightforward krautbeat exercises are, their nightmarish descents into noisier and more discordant terrain frequently turn out to be the standout moments on >>, which suggest maybe Barrow & Co. spent a little more time with “Aumgn” than “Hallogallo” since 2009. Much as Barrow learned with Portishead, taking a turn for the freakish and difficult can be a rewarding course of action, and >> proves no exception.
Stream: BEAK> – “The Gaol”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.