Beak are a U.K.-based trio consisting of Geoff Barrow (of Portishead) with Billy Fuller and Matt Williams. The proper stylization of Beak is Beak >, utilizing the “greater than” or “angle bracket” sign. I think it is meant to visually represent a bird beak, but the “greater than” signification is kind of cool too. In any case, their newly released second album is titled >>, or II (whichever one prefers). Greater than the first? Perhaps. Or maybe just a talking point for reviewers like myself who enjoy a bit of play with punctuation.
The album opens with “The Gaul,” 3:10 of melodic dissonance. The contradiction in terms is an extremely effective way of preparing the listener for just about anything. It is sort of a tabula rasa, a cleansing of the palette if you will, and opens the ears up for virtually anything. The following track, “Yatton” is the key. While I thought that the band may have taken the “arty” cacophonous route, “Yatton” emphasizes the melodic, at least up to a point. As the 5:17 track deepens, a repetitive, and irresistible loop takes over.
Just at the moment when I have finally decided I have a handle on what Beak’s second album is all about, “Spinning Top” throws me again. At the 4:06 mark, all of my planned comparisons to Cabaret Voltaire circa 1979 are thrown out thanks to an unexpectedly jarring guitar break. I am faced with a 6:13 track that leaves more questions than answers. With the exquisite drone of “Egg Dog,” I give up, and just let the music wash over me.
Beak II reminds me of a period in music when all things were truly possible. Not 1977, which appeared to wipe the slate clean of all things '60s – to replace it with the rigid strictures of punk. No, Beak seem to have found inspiration in what I consider the real revolution, the era we now refer to as “post-punk.“