Beak>, Bristol’s ungoogleable krautrock trio-du-jour, have returned after three years with a great new album in tow. Billy Fuller, Matt Williams, and Geoff Barrow (of Portishead; though Barrow has been clear that Beak> is not a Portishead side-project) have refined the menacing beat-driven jams of their 2009 debut and released a collection of songs whose consistency, songwriting, and level of professional quality should be a template for any band of a similar nature.
Krautrock is a loose term at its root. Some bands like Cluster and Faust are known for their lengthy, avant-garde, pseudo-noise pieces, while bands like Can and NEU! have employed more rhythmic songwriting methods. I suppose that in this perspective, Beak> is to krautrock what Battles is to math rock. That is, they make it an accessible, almost radio-friendly genre. They prefer to keep things short, rhythmic, and friendly instead of lengthy, noisy, and inaccessible, and it pays off handsomely for them.
On », Beak> have perfected their art. On tracks like “Yatton” and “Eggdog,” the noticeable melodic elements become memorable components of the overall rhythmic structure. In layman’s terms, it’s more interesting and enjoyable than any krautrock I’ve heard for quite some time, even more so than Beak>’s own debut album. Of course, the single best thing about » is the return of the band’s standalone single “Wulfstan” as a revamped, perfected “Wulfstan II.” This song is the best on the album by far, showcasing the band’s monolithic, dark rhythm in all its glory; washed out vocals drone over the top of chugging guitar riffs, stark and repetitious drum beats, and flourishes of feedback and dissonant synth stabs.
It’s these moments that make » such a standout album, both in relationship to their debut and to other albums of similar type. So, why just the B rating? Beak> are an exceptional, professional band, but they work best with a formula. Many songs like the aforementioned “Yatton” and “Wulfstan II” are great pieces, but the album fails to deliver on some of the more avant-garde songs like opener “The Gaol” and the drum-less “Ladies’ Mile.” Beak> makes a good attempt at making these songs work, but they actually end up disrupting the flow of the album and falling short of the expectations set by the other songs on the album. It’s a bittersweet notion. On one hand, it means that their music is formulaic, but on the other hand it’s really great music. In theory, krautrock is a rather formulaic genre, and a near dead one at that. In my opinion, it’s heartening to know that bands like Beak> still continue that legacy.