It’s fair to say that Beak>, the Bristol based trio comprised of Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, plus Billy Fuller and Will Young (who replaced Matt Williams in 2016), have travelled an eclectic musical path over the last decade. From their eponymous 2009 debut, to last year’s >>> , they’ve produced music that one minute is chock full of tortured moans, atonal clangs, and the hum of electronic despair, and in the next, is cocooning you in a sonic blanket of weird, warm loveliness. This mixture of pulsating menace and melodic accessibility means that Beak> aren’t always a straightforward listen, but in a world where bland and easily digestible is sadly the default, anything that tickles and challenges your brain is to be cherished. With this in mind, can their new four track EP, Life Goes On, continue Beak>’s run of odd, yet oddly life affirming musical output?
The inspiration for the title track on ‘Life Goes On’ came when Beak> recently visited Mexico City. Every morning, the band would be roused from their slumber by the amplified, distorted voices of young girls blaring out a greeting in Spanish. On closer investigation, Beak> discovered that the shouty girls were being used by scrap metal dealers to encourage the Mexican City populous to bring out their unwanted metal tat. The recording of this scrappers call-to-arms used on ‘Life Goes On’, literally translates as (well, according to Google anyway), “…buy mattresses, drums, stoves, microwaves and washing machines”. I suspect that this is the first time since ‘Any Old Iron‘ was a big hit in the music halls of yesteryear, that rubbish collection has been the genesis for a song…
Musically, ‘Life Goes On’ is an absolutely taut, ominous bastard of a tune. Cow bell enriched drums rub up against gnawing guitars, creating a feeling of mournful dread that makes arm and neck hair stand to attention. Lyrically, as with a lot of Beak>’s recorded output, the vocals are a tad muddy, and all my grizzled ears can make out is “Do what they say, take what you want, life still goes on..”, but that’s more than enough to add the the sense of creeping unease.
The next track on The EP is ‘We Can Go’, and in the pantheon of Beak>’s recorded output, is possibly the best thing they’ve ever done.
With an intro of woozy guitars and pounding drums that exactly emulate the feeling of being very, very drunk at 4am, complete with the sense of a nascent blinding headache and imminent vomiting, ‘We Can Go‘ suddenly takes a left field turn and morphs into a soundtrack from a late 1970s Italian zombie movie recorded on an already fucked VHS tape. Spidery guitars and a muffled “oh oh oh we can go” lead into some gloriously distorted, gnarly-as-shit organ that transform an already great song into a CinemaScope sized monster. Absolutely fucking brilliant!
The last of Beak>‘s three new songs on the EP is ‘Minus Pillow’. After the glorious intensity of the first two tracks, ‘Minus Pillow‘ suffers a little in comparison, but with its banging techno tunage and Metal Micky style vocals (that’s the shit 1980’s TV show, not Suede’s Brett Anderson and his yelping histrionics) , it’s not so much the awful relative you desperately try to avoid at a family get together, as an initially awkward meeting with an old friend, that by the end has been thoroughly great.
The final track on Life Goes On is a reworking of ‘Allé Sauvage‘ from Beak>’s 2018 album, >>>, by composer and accordionist Mario Batkovic.
On >>> , ‘Allé Sauvage’ is a driving churn of drums and synths, but in Batkovic’s hands the track is transformed into something surprising and sublime.
Starting slow, Batkovic’s take sounds like a drunken sailer using his accordion to play a half remembered sea shanty, but halfway through, the song bursts into life with a ferocity that is completely unexpected. With the accordion wheezing like an asthmatic pensioner, Batkovic pummels ‘Allé Sauvage’ into unexpected shapes and textures that will make you grin at the sheer audacity of it all. Mario Batkovic is a bona fide genius.
With Life Goes On, Beak> have once again demonstrated that they’re one of the most astonishingly talented bands working today. It may only be four tracks, but fucking hell, it’s four tracks that will make your life immeasurably better.
Life Goes On is released on 21/06/19 on Invada Records