Beak> – >> – Album Review

I hadn’t heard a peep about Beak>, I must admit, until a few weeks ago. Formed by Geoff Barrow, Matt Williams and Billy Fuller in 2009, Beak> recorded their self-titled debut album in Bristol out of twelve days of improv sessions which were then moulded into songs. The effort was released on INVADA Records in the UK and Ipecac Recordings (home to the Melvins, Tomahawk, Desert Sessions). A successful tour followed. INVADA’s description of what followed cannot be improved upon:

Beak> then returned to the studio to start work on ALBUM 2 only to find that the time on the road had taken its toll on the band’s delicately sensitive and creative nature. And, by consequence, had turned them into a truly awful-sounding pub prog-rock band. The magic had gone. It seemed that the band were thoroughly moribund.

My lord… sad, no? Fret not – the lads have clearly found their mojo since that low-point three years ago. I admit (a lot of admissions going on today) I’ve been a little slow on the trigger for this release folks; >> came out July 10 on INVADA UK. It took a while to get to my ears, but it’s here now. Put it in your ears.

A disconcerting Kubrickian synth opens the door to “The Gaol” on >>; a door that leads to dark, sparsely furnished rooms sprinkled with experimentalism and carpeted with raw, trance-inducing rhythms. There are ten rooms in this foggy, dimly lit building. The minimalist New Wave feel of “Yatton” gets you barely bouncing as someone sings to you from somewhere in the room… but you can’t see them. There’s someone in the room, but you’re in the centre, along with the centrepiece – the staccato beat of synth, guitar and percussion. Bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop.

The bop fades as you enter the “Spinning Top” room and hear the sound of some jangly contraption in the corner yet as soon as you think you’ve identified it, it stops and a different, bare bones rhythm walks you around. And there’s that voice again… Where the hell am I? I’m not sure, but I think I enjoy it.

Keys are given more prominence in “Eggdog” as they waver and layer over the slow drums and bass to create a warped sense of foreboding anticipation. The muffle of the voice chimes in again, telling you… something… subconsciously perhaps. This room scares me a little. Onto the next.

So much for relief. “Liar” picks up the pace with its driving, yet still bare percussion, as insect-like effects ring around the room until 70s, psycho-thriller synth arpeggios really start to play with your head. Why do I always get the sense that something bad’s going to happen? I try to find my way back to the beginning to get out – I’m not sure I want to know what happens next – but the previous door has closed and there’s nowhere to go but forward.

“Ladies Mile” at least lays off the rhythm and lets me catch my breath. This room is still weird, though. It is the lonely, melancholic soundtrack to a demented, French, animated silent short film. The moods in this building are thick and in this room, I touch the walls and my fingers are smeared with regret and sadness. I taste them. They taste of the past. This might just be the waiting room for the Void.

As I enter the next room, “Wulfstan II”, the largest so far, I hear a heralding call of voices. Shit. This is the room where the something bad that I knew was going to happen is going to happen. As the slow, bassy, ominous riff begins, the room grows dark and red and begins to extend slowly, further and further away. It keeps extending as I walk toward the next door. So far… this is ridiculous. The riff peaks into a more menacing distorted riff, and calms down again as the voices call out once more. I begin to see things coming at me from the sides as jangley guitars distract me and make me lose sight of the threats. There’s something behind me too, I think, but I can’t look back. Jangle jangle jangle. Then the fuzzy riff comes back and I can’t help but whisper-to-scream – “……fffffuuuuuuuUUUCCCKKKYYYEAAAAHHH!!!” How is this so quietly loud? Shhhhh, I’m screaming! I decide to start running for the door now, but it just keeps extending, and the voices call out again. Haven’t we done this before again? The still-alive ghost of Ray Manzerek plays his organ, rolling along beside me, head swaying,  grinning, knowing I’m going for the door and relishing in my struggle. Run. Goddamnit, run. I’m running at full speed now and the fuzzy riff comes back and this can’t go on forever can it and I’m at the door and I can almost touch the knob  and –

I tumble into “Elevator”. I can’t tell if we’re going up or down. Hell, in this place, we might be going sideways. That beat that’s been around throughout most of >> in some way is here still, supporting an error-ridden synth-computer that eventually succeeds in synchronizing its error sounds into music. I get the feeling that we are moving very fast, despite the soft sounds.

The trip is winding down now. This room… wait, when did I get off the elevator?… No matter. This room, somehow without walls, has within it the loose drums, subtly snarling guitars and oh yes – the voices that heard throughout the trek. Everything’s coming ‘round full circle. The voices speak of “Deserters”. Am I one of these? I just don’t know.

“Kidney” finally has enough of me and proceeds to lead me out of the building. I swear I can hear some things from the other rooms still. But it’s over, isn’t it? I want to stay a bit longer and figure it out now. The low distorted guitar lets me know that I’m not done learning and the exit from here won’t be an easy one. Why am I so tense in every one of these rooms? The voice shouts now, excited. Is it me? Am I the voice? How did I even get here? What did I just experience? I don’t want this to end, but when will this end? I should have taken notes on my way through, that way I’d be able to remember it. Who am I kidding – knowing me, it would be a crumpled piece of gibberish by the time I reached the last room. How did it start again?

It… it all started with that Kubrickian synth. Yes! That synth that opened the door to “The Gaol”. Wait, that’s it! That’s the door! It’s open again… I… I need to go through it again. I’m not sure why. I think I’ve been here before.

Come on in.