A curious combination of discipline versus limitless scope, the debut album from Bristol conglomerate BEAK> (capital letters and symbolic suffix apparently essential) is quite the curio.
Led by principal point of interest, Portishead protagonist Geoff Barrow, it’s interesting that of the trio’s chief concerns, BEAK> are probably closest to the work of least celebrated member, Billy Fuller of psych-jazz adventurers Fuzz Against Junk.
Completed by noisemaking scamp Matt ‘Team Brick’ Williams, BEAK>’s tangential reference points do, admittedly, clearly connect with Barrow’s day job, particularly Portishead’s invitingly dark 2008 comeback opus, Third.
But while Third was long awaited to say the least, arriving a decade on from its self-titled predecessor, BEAK> is an exercise in spur-of-the-moment immediacy by very definition, a dozen pieces captured over 12 days during 2009’s frosty first few weeks.
With firm guidelines laid down beforehand – as the record sleeve itself blurts, “Recorded live in one room with no overdubs or repair, only using edits to create arrangements” – the emphasis is on instinctive improvisation and ad hoc flourishes.
In the ensuing krautrock-indebted atmosphere, Bristol and the surrounding district is very much the thematic influence, the opening three tracks named after areas in the locality (all, unsurprisingly, within striking distance of Barrow’s prior muse, Somerset town Portishead).
That aforementioned trio set the album’s tone perfectly, too. Backwell builds from ghostly nothings into a march that German pioneers Neu! would be proud to call their own. Pill pivots off similar repetitious mantras, while Ham Green is a giant on the landscape, patient background vocalisations eventually buried beneath stoner-sized bass fuzz.
Battery Point is as near as BEAK> subsequently peck toward generic, a gently unfolding post-rock picture postcard, shimmering beautifully despite the fact it could nestle nicely on any given album from Texan instrumentalists Explosions in the Sky.
It’s a mere anomaly in the shakedown, however. Because with constant invention and genuine humanity characterising every whirr and warm glow, BEAK> have constructed a record as eccentrically Bristolian as Aphex Twin’s works are Cornish or Mogwai’s are Scottish, with equally intrepid results. --Adam Kennedy
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