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.
In April 2011, something remarkable and ugly was born. Three guys under the name of Death Grips left a mixtape named “Exmilitary” out for the world to experience, for free. What very well could be the start of something densely aberrant, ended up being one of the most talked about and lauded hip-hop mixtapes of the year. And so the madness begins.
There are three types of people: those who listen to Death Grips, those who don’t and those who are scared shitless by them. Following up from the extremely uncompromising and vicious “Exmilitary”, Death Grips’ latest LP “The Money Store” now tackles the task of exploring their intricate style presented on “Exmilitary”. They’re moving past the brutal straightforward sonic clashes between punk and hip hop, instead offering higher levels of artistic efforts, denser material and intense abstract fury on top of the original formula. Much like an “OK Computer” or a Tom Waits record, “The Money Store” is one of those rare releases that offer an abundance of material, sonically and conceptually, enough to equally baffle and satisfy the mind.
Unlike the structure of their past efforts, “The Money Store” comes off as more of an art series than one magnum opus. Death Grips open with the catchiest and quietest track of the album, “Get Got”, featuring qualities unseen in the band’s quality. Paired with the zaniest electronic beats and the more quieter tones of lead rapper MC Ride’s voice, the song serves as an immediate confirmation that these guys have a whole sleeve-full of tricks we haven’t even seen.
And that’s how the entire album rolls: equally impressing and daunting their audience with philosophic and sonic density. The track, “Bitch Please”, functions as a club-banger, yet emotes such loathsomeness that any notion of the nightclub scene would be left horrifically tainted after a listen. Songs like “Hacker” and “The Fever (Aye Aye)” win the award for inducing the most uncomfortable sensations of paranoia and anxiety, with elements of serial-killer-esque evil delivered in an intimate fashion (i.e. lyrics like “I’m in your area / I know the first three numbers”) that set the listener’s imagination nuts. Each track functions individually, creating different realities all under the roof of a unified agenda. All of Death Grips’ creative process and desires are purely antagonistic. Yet, the moment of applause lies not in the creepy dance the villain performs, but in its adroit craftsmanship and analytical detail.
“The Money Store” is not interested in changing genres, breathing life back into hip hop, or presenting ulterior social motives. Instead, Death Grips jumps out of hip hop’s bandwagon and runs the opposite direction, arms flailing with its hair on fire. By embracing every major negative stereotype of hip hop and making it harsher by pairing gruesome elements of industrial rock, “The Money Store” is a masterpiece for defying the limits of how grotesque art can be. If the hip hop is the impending doom many believe it to be, “The Money Store” is fucking “Apocolypse Now”.