I would hesitate to say that krautrock has had a proper resurgence, but in recent years its motorik rhythms have popped up everywhere from Deerhunter to The Horrors. Often times it’s used in watered down fashion, and I sure hope it doesn’t end up regurgitated as much as new wave and shoegaze have been by the indie community.
But Beak>, which features Portishead drummer/founder Geoff Barrow, always had a far more authentic approach. I certainly wouldn’t say they’re simply aping krautrock; the jamming-inspired compositions always had a natural feel to them, mostly because they were recorded live and left unembellished, and the result is equal parts kraut, psychedelia, and post-punk.
The group’s second album, >>, is mostly parallel to their self-titled 2009 debut: airtight, propulsive drumming with fuzzy, repetitive bass lines locked in, splashed with analog synthesizers and echoed, indecipherable vocals.
The result is a dreary, lo-fi industrial soundscape, lending the recording a hint of antique charm – it may as well have emerged from some gray factory town in the mid-late 70’s. The ominous instrumental “Ladies’ Mile” in particular is reminiscent of some of Throbbing Gristle’s more creepily hushed moments, while “Wulfstan II” is the definite climax with its sinister bass and drum groove, cavernous vocals, and synthesizer echoes.
It’s not necessarily all gloom and doom; the more up-tempo groove of “Yatton” and the brief “Liar” attest to that, though they still don’t shed the album’s aesthetic.
Adherence to a specific sonic palette can often be very limiting, and in this day and age, quite gimmicky. But >> is thankfully an example of style done right. Its jammy, live nature lends a certain unpredictability and visceral quality to the performance, which makes for an engaging, foot-stomping listen.