“You don’t like our music ‘cause it ain’t up on the radio,” Geoff Barrow barks on “Brean Down” (presumably - the vocal is processed to sound like it’s emerging from the bottom of a particularly deep well). Despite what the track claims, the propulsive first taster released from >>> has received a fair bit of airplay over the hipper areas of the radio dial during the last few weeks.
Crafting something approaching an indie hit is quite an accomplishment for a group that was formed to grant Barrow another creative outlet whilst his very famous main project was on one its lengthy hiatuses, and whose murky early work - their debut album was recorded entirely live with no overdubs or fixes - could hardly have been more uncompromisingly experimental in ethos and approach. After two albums and a soundtrack, >>> marks the point where it’s no longer reasonable to discuss Beak> as merely a Portishead side project. It also signals that the Bristol-based trio have succeeded in distilling their primary influences - Can, gloomy post-punk twitchiness, uneasy ambient and vintage electronic music especially - to a recognisable signature sound.
The trio’s earlier material suggested that aural oddness and warped atmospherics were more crucial than the formalities of conventional songwriting. At its best, >>> retains the weirdness but manages to staple it to some fairly colossal tunes, with an emphasis on huge grooves that nods towards Barrow’s background as a drummer. Reminiscent of Can jamming in Dracula’s castle after a heavy intake of caffeine or a rock ‘n’ roll power trio gate-crashing a hip hop breakbeat seminar, “Brean Down” excels in welding a clattering, loose-limbed rhythm track to the band’s most infectious melody yet.
The insistently sweaty throb of “King of The Castle” dips into frantic garage-rock vibes, complete with alluringly creaky one-finger keyboard lines. Next to this, the suitably spooky and spooked instrumentals come across as business as usual (the business admittedly being good), and the album’s allure admittedly dips whenever the tempo drops and the grooves fade into the ether for the more disembodied offerings. It’s easy to overlook such dips when faced with the majestic closer “When We Fall”, a genuinely pretty lament that blooms into an unexpectedly insistent coda.