BEAK> – Beak>> (Invada)

Long-time members of the SIG might remember a time when Portishead were the name to drop, and their ‘Dummy’ album became the default music for middle-class dinner parties. Well, fast-forward twenty years and we find that mainman Geoff Barrow has put together a new band, and this time he is taking his influences lock, stock and barrel from 70’s Krautrock. And I don’t just mean that some of the songs have a hint of it – I mean that this whole album could have recorded in Konnie Plank’s studio in 1972. Now being a huge fan of 70’s Krautrock, and especially Can, Neu! and Tangerine Dream, I just had to hear this, and I was certainly not disappointed in what I heard. ‘The Goal’ is a brilliant start, with discordant synths running riot over a repetitive bassline, and crashing cymbals seemingly appearing whenever they feel like it. ‘Yatton’ utilises the motorik beat that typified Krautrock, and even though the echoed vocals are in English, you actually expect them to be in German! ‘Spinning Top’ slows down the beat and adds a naggingly insistent one-note bass riff, over which are laid some more of those ‘English sounding like German’ lyrics. If you are concerned that by stretching this out to over six minutes might mean that you will lose interest then don’t worry, as when the massed guitars make an appearance two-thirds of the way through it brings it all back into focus – and all the best Krautrock tracks go on a bit anyway. ‘Eggdog’ is a more melodic offering, with a nice synth melody holding it all together while the verses are more rhythm-driven. ‘Liar’ is a cross between Kraftwerk and a pneumatic drill – and that that is actually a pretty good combination – while the drumless ‘Ladies’ Mile’ is pure Tangerine Dream, with its distinctive synth-driven bassline and experimental chords laid over the top. For me, though, they are going to have to go a long way to top ‘Wulfstan II’. This brilliant track has one of those riffs that you just love on first hearing, along with incantational vocals and a Krautrock backbeat. The band use the quiet passages to experiment with off-tune guitar and some great organ noodling, gradually building up to the point where THAT riff reappears to hold the whole thing together for the next section. At seven minutes, this is the longest track on the album, but I would gladly listen to it at twice the length, and this is one of those few occasions where more is more. ‘Elevator’ and ‘Deserters’ might seem a bit pale in comparison to what has just gone before, but they are a couple of good Kraftwerk-style pieces, and ‘Kidney’ closes the album with another lengthy piece, which at times sounds more post-punk than Krautrock, with echoes of Crispy Ambulance in the latter half. Obviously this album will not be to everyone’s taste, and even Portishead fans might baulk at most of it, but for fans of 70’s Krautrock, who have little enough new material appearing these days, this is an absolute must.
Wulfstan II