Beak> - Beak>

Kyle Ellison 05/11/2009

Rating: 3.5/5

Having taken 11 years between the release of the second and third Portishead albums, it's perhaps understandable that Geoff Barrow has sought to work in a less intense recording environment. This appears to be the case with new side project, Beak>, as Barrow and two fellow Bristolians completed their debut album in 12 days, recorded live, without overdubs.

The result of this process is an hour's worth of music, completely unfiltered, raw, and perhaps the purest example of Barrow's musicianship to be recorded to this day. It's a record that wears its influences on its sleeve, as the kraut rock sounds that lay under the surface of Third, creep up to the surface for all to see and understand. But this isn't just Barrow's record, as band mates Billy Fuller and Matt Williams, form integral components of this well oiled machine. The word 'machine', here, not simply used as a convenient metaphor, but a way of trying to translate the grinding industrial sounds that decorate the records bass driven structure.

Inevitably, the records loose recording process produces mixed results. While the musical direction of the band is always clear, not every track here feels completed in the way you might expect from listening to Barrow's other projects. Yet, in the moments where everything clicks into place it becomes obvious what these jams are centred around. Take, for example, early album highlight Ham Green, combining ghostly vocal mutterings with an ominous, plodding bass line. Just when you wonder if the track is going anywhere, there is a crack of the snare and the bass clicks into overdrive, sending the track into a powerful doom laden climax. At other times, however, tracks seem fully formed from the outset, such as the obvious single selection, I Know, and the seven minute post-rock centre piece, Battery Point.

For those impressed by The Horrors' Primary Colours, which was produced by Barrow, here those same influences are evident, but removed from a pop framework and allowed to breathe. Some listeners might find this to the records detriment as it meanders off road, while others will be impressed by its exploration of the full musical landscape. For this reviewer, it's a welcome addition to Barrow's increasingly impressive back catalogue. While certainly not without its flaws, you'd be hard pushed to find a more authentic modern take on classic Kraut Rock sounds.