Geoff Barrow is usually known as “that guy from Portishead,” which is a bit like calling Jonny Greenwood “that guy from Radiohead”; technically true, but it really doesn’t do the man justice. With Beak>, however, Barrow proves he’s not just a one-band pony. Formed with fellow Bristol musicians Billy Fuller and Matt Williams, Barrow’s new project is a bleak yet fascinating exploration of krautrock rhythms and ominous atmosphere.
While plenty of tracks on Beak>’s self-titled debut have a considerable amount of rhythmic pep, the overall mood is unrelentingly dark; imagine a strange combination of Slint and Can, and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect on Beak>. The album opener, “Backwell,” encapsulates the album aesthetic well: opening with a minimal bass guitar line, distant voices, and a soft organ hum, the track doesn’t really get going until 3 minutes in, when it launches into a motorik groove backed by buzzing keyboards. The amount of restraint here borders on heroic, especially in the age of the iPod. Short attention spans beware.
People will undoubtedly try to make connections between the material here and that of Portishead, and they wouldn’t be totally wrong; there is certainly a similar thread of anxiety running through both of these projects. However, Beak> allows Barrow to push his ideas much farther into outré terrain. The vocals are weary and drenched in reverb, like Ian Curtis singing from inside a cave. There’s also more experimentation with noise here, for better or worse (even the most adventurous listener might have trouble getting through the two-minute electric slaughterhouse of “Barrow Gurney”). In the final analysis, Barrow and his bandmates deserve credit for creating an album with a clearly defined sound that borrows but never imitates, seemingly removed from any 21st century musical trends.
Beak> is out now on Ipecac Recordings. Want to catch them live? Check out the tour dates below!
Feb. 19th – Le Route Du Rock – Saint Malo, France
Feb. 20th – Le Grand Mix – Tourcoing, France
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– Matt Diamond