Geoff Barrow’s band Beak> is approaching its tenth anniversary and, while the albums arrive only occasionally, each is worth the wait. The first two Beak> albums (2009’s Beak> and 2012’s >>) combined Neu!, public information film soundtracks and deep Somerset topography, and sounded like Bristol, squeezed into a studio, making its own enthralling sound. Since then, sometime Portishead man Barrow has worked on soundtracks and well-chosen side projects. In 2016 Beak> - now Barrow and bassist Billy Fuller, plus new member Will Young - recorded the soundtrack to the film, Couple in a Hole. Now they are back with their third full release which, naturally enough, is called >>>. It is a long time since 2012, culturally and politically, so perhaps the reactivation of Beak> is a sign that something much needed is stirring again.
>>> is a confident, powerful statement that references the past to create something new and completely current. Opening track ‘The Brazilian’ is surely a lost offcut from the soundtrack to The Omega Factor, the strange late ‘70s series about the extra-sensory research of the secret Department Seven, set in uncertain times. Its crunchy, yet mournful funk bass riff, overflows with the sense of doomed attempts to shape the future. All Beak> albums have their fair share of tracks named after obscure Greater Bristol locations. On >>> there’s ‘Brean Down’, the promontory at Weston-super-Mare, which is far from pastoral. It’s a gritty, motorik delight, with vocals declaring “The future’s kind of sketchy, so people got to get along.” Then there’s ‘Abbots Leigh’, a mini-epic with a solid driving beat emerging slowly from a fuzz of discord and static, and a low synth melody striking out over the top.
The sense of a lost analogue future is present through an album that reveals more and more layers with each listen. The layers of synth on ‘Birthday Suit’ slowly unfurl with a heart-breaking delicacy, while ‘Harvester’ is straight out of David Lynch’s jukebox, with slide guitar, sonorous cello and vocals intoning from a far away room “Don’t give a damn if you’re down this low.” ‘Allé Sauvage’, with its impressively untypable title, is a transmission from a drifting satellite. ‘Teisco’ uses forward and backwards piano to indescribably melancholy effect. Track lengths rise and fall, then rise again to the final track ‘When We Fall’, longest and most gorgeous of all. The vocals are finally at the front of the mix, harmonising with a new clarity, while strings soar above the inevitable, reassuring Neu! heartbeat. It’s a lovely track, and a highly impressive album. Barrow, Fuller and now Young deploy key influences to make music that is completely assured, a new psychedelia burgeoning for a culture seeking clarity of vision.