They call it Krautrock. It’s the hypnotic, piston-pumping genre from late 1960’s Germany where drummers pounded out tightly-wound beats, bassists thumped pulsing notes, and zoned out singers warbled over it all in an absurdist drone. It’s where American psychedelica meets icy Germanic detachment. Part of the sound came from American GI’s who were stationed throughout the country, playing psych rock on base and over the airwaves on local radio. Scions of the scene, and krautrock originals, Can began with African American singer Malcom Mooney, until he had a nervous breakdown on stage in 1970. Kraftwerk’s early days, before drum machines mechanized their sound, could be considered krauty and the propulsive proto-punk of Neu! also fits the bill. If you want Krautrock of the modern variety, look to Beak>.
It’s the brainchild of Geoff Barrow, the producer behind cinematic and sultry trip hop band Portishead, who now wrangles the band’s forward-marching beats. Joined by Billy Fuller and Matt Williams, he balances visceral, growling bass with disaffected vocals. Their latest album, > >, landed on numerous “best of” lists of 2012, placing their distinct brand of cerebral rock alongside other acts that weren’t half as adventurous.
The key to a typical Beak> song is repetition, be it a note or a phrase. The moment grows, layer by layer, as new textures build like accumulating sediments. Then the song hits its stride — one minute and twenty seconds into the arpeggiated synths of “Liar,” four minutes and twenty seven seconds into “Spinning Top,” four minutes and twelve seconds into “Wulfstan II” when the song coagulates back to its buzzsaw bass after it’s all fallen apart. It’s a stream of focused consciousness that pulsates with flaws and all. That’s by design. Both of the trio’s albums were recorded live during long sessions with only the three musicians in one room. It’s the same ethos that Can used to create their landmark piece Tago Mago, over 40 years ago. Restraint is paired with raucous in Beak>’s music, which burgeons with microscopic grooves that are revealed when you least expect them. When their hazy ethos does come into focus, prepare for subtle surprises that are ensconced in sound and played on repeat.
Beak> plays tonight at the Echoplex with Vex Ruffin and Peanut Butter Wolf. ($15)