BEAK> - >>

An utterly engrossing experience.

Label: Invada

Rating: 7

Experimental kraut-rock/goth project, BEAK>, really take the idea of “minimalism” to a new level with their frustratingly unsearchable album, ‘>>’ (Note: if I had a penny for every time someone commented on that aspect of this album, I would be a very rich man. Seriously though, are they just having a laugh?). Every bit of press you read about their new album is predominantly coloured black. Their websites are coloured black. All of their previous album covers appear to be black. Any photos of the band usually have each member looking considerably droll. The critical commentary about their work doesn’t extend beyond the famous set of rules which governs the bands recording process: one studio, no second takes, no overdubs, just play and see what sticks in the editing room.

You’ve got to wonder, given the calibre of the individual members, are they taking a very “arty” approach to music by doing away with conventional notions of pleasurable listening or are they just embodying a feigned indifference which is so common in “indie” music? Are they trying to fool us into thinking their art is something deceptively profound? You know, all that posturing to look as if you don’t care… it is so overdone, and music is so diverse these days, who actually thinks that they are saying anything drastically different? There are very few people who are as groundbreaking as they say they are – and that’s totally fine!

After listening to ‘>>’, it becomes apparent that it is neither of the above – instead, like their 2009 effort, BEAK> have created an album where each member revels within their own confines of self-imposed restraint. But it is not the restraint, which we normally associate with the negative kind. Instead, it is the same restraint seen in surrealist art where the art form implores you to undertake as little conscious decision making as possible; exploring the freedom associated with taping into your own psyche and being a mere medium for those artistic urges. Despite its musical aesthetic, >>’s spirit is more closely aligned with those of the great jazz musicians – the best pieces were performed by prodigal musicians who knew their craft so well that the focus shifted to the improvisational impulses which they became the medium for. Geoff Barrow, Matthew Williams and Billy Fuller know their respective crafts so well they each create their own very distinct musical beasts (think ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’) which interact in unpredictable ways: sometimes they circle each other suspiciously, sometimes they fight, sometimes they dawdle along side by side.

Persist with ‘>>’ and you begin to appreciate that the album is not an easily digestible piece of music that simply begins and ends. ‘>>’ is intriguing because of the actual journey it takes, not necessarily because of where it ends up. So often will a single-note bass line meander along limply before being ambushed by dirty reverb-laden guitars (‘Deserters’) or an explosion of noise (‘Spinning Top’, ‘Kidney’). Or a novocaine-hampered yelp (‘Wulfstan II’). Sometimes even in a single line, BEAK> manage to hook you in and take you through a sequence of emotional responses before any resolution even appears in sight: intrigue, boredom, anxiety, tension, horror, paranoia, helplessness, and loneliness. Many albums claim to be an “experience”, but ‘>>’ is just that in a way through a standard that other albums fall well short of. ‘>>’ is like the sound of your worst fears attacking you during a vacuous daydream. You become totally entranced while it’s happening until suddenly snap out of it only to have it disappear into the ether. It is not a nice experience but it compels you to revisit it to decode the images that were previously violating your mind’s eye.

Similarly, ‘>>’ is not a pleasurable listen and it is not an easy listen, but it is an incredible one. Though the concepts of improvisation and minimalist editing (and marketing) are hardly new things, ‘>>’ makes it all work probably due in no small part to the knowledge of each member has of their own musical weapon of choice. If anything explains why the militant minimalism is so necessary, the reasons are found within BEAK>’s very own work – the band truly let >> do all of its own talking. And if you’re willing to sit and listen, the only guarantee is that it will be an utterly engrossing experience.