It’s impossible to listen to Beak and not search for traces of Geoff Barrow’s other, slightly more epochal outfit, Portishead. Elusive and creepily perfect, Portishead records demand devotion and inspire a curiosity the band seems impossible to sate. So we turn to Beak, which emerged with every bit the attitude of a side project, with an investigative ear. It seems fair to surmise that few purchased Beak, after all, without foreknowledge of Barrow’s other band.
So, to make the comparisons, one hears in its rich percussive thrust echos of the propulsive turn Portishead took on Third, and the bleak sparsity of “Ears Have Ears” feels pulled from the same ether as Dummy. Still, Beak deserves comparisons outside of these–if anything, the comparisons one can draw between Beak and Portishead are of a shared lineage that includes Can and Neu! and a host of other bands. One hears hints of Joy Division in the affectless swoon of “The Cornubia” and of Goblin’s murky wail on “Dundry Hill.” When the monster stoner-metal riff that closes “Ham Green” finally stomps in with a brontosaurus’ grace, the band sounds like college kids that just got a basement to play in.
In other words, Beak sounds like a band having fun being a band, something entirely opposed to the icy perfection of Portishead’s triumvirate of records. The record was pparently written in a 12-day stretch and recorded live in a room sans overdubs, which despite the metronomic drumming is exactly what it sounds like. It’s far from perfect, sloppy and trance-like, but feels suffused with a blast of inspiration the musicians simply had to get out. If it takes another 11 years for Portishead to make a record, a few more Beak records like this will more than hold us over.