In 2008 Portishead ended a lengthy recording hiatus with the release of 'Third', which found the English trio stripping down its once-lush trip-hop sound to a brutal, bare-bones attack. Producer and multi-instrumentalist Geoff Barrow keeps things even more minimal in Beak>, his side project with fellow Bristol natives Billy Fuller and Matt Williams. Their self-titled debut was cut over a period of 12 days in one room, live with no overdubs.
The trio takes clear inspiration from seminal krautrock outfits such as Can and Neu!, with electric-guitar noodles and vintage-synth squiggles laid over locked-groove rhythms that build in intensity. (Barrow’s production work on the Horrors’ recent Primary Colours suggested he’d been listening to Germany’s finest.) Yet there’s a confrontational punk energy to Beak>’s material; 'Barrow Gurney', for instance, presents two minutes of noisy amp squall, then calls it a day.
Absent Beth Gibbons’s bewitching vocals, this stuff can sometimes feel unfinished, particularly on a track like 'The Cornubia', in which Fuller’s slinky doom-jazz bassline seems to invite a lead melody that never arrives. Still, as sonic vibes go, Beak> conjures a supremely unsettling one.