Some musicians respond well to being given strict rules. Others hate the idea, rebel and go the opposite way. The story of Bristol trio BEAK> is one of those recording in strict confines, and responding to effectively writing in captivity.
Yet the sense is never given here that the musicians are doing anything other than playing instinctively. When you consider their disparate backgrounds, that’s quite an achievement.
Said musicians are Portishead supremo Geoff Barrow, seemingly revelling in the chance to do something a bit more off the wall than the day job, Billy Fuller, who has previous performing with fellow Bristolians Massive Attack, and Matt Williams, a free spirited presence.
The music for BEAK> was recorded in one room, with little opportunity allowed for post production, and the whole album was done in 12 days. It explains the organic feel to the wide ranging tracks, which often latch on to a constant loop of fast against slow.
This sometimes means rapid drumming and slow, stately keyboard progressions (I Know) or lumbering percussion that suddenly breaks out into a distorted wall of guitar sound (Ham Green). Each, however, paints a picture rather like a slightly distorted landscape.
The titles give this away as much as anything – Blagdon Lake, Barrow Gurney, Dundry Hill – and while the first of the three is the most consonant, driven thing on this record, the euphoric high point, if you like, Barrow Gurney is very difficult to listen to on headphones, thanks to its squeals of distortion.
It’s this variety that makes BEAK> an intriguing force, and while it’s true to recognise not all of the sound portraits are an unqualified success, each paints a specific picture and mood. With the three musicians clearly in tune to what the other is doing, it just goes to show that imposing strict recording rules on a project needn’t mean the musical ones are followed too.
BEAK>, then, is a record that gradually gives up its secrets with each listen, in turns sombre, blissful, angry and energetic – a record of moods and their transfer to disc. The ingredients, and the musical personalities, combine to make a very intriguing and invigorating listen.