Since their inception, BEAK> have always been in a hole. The moaning synths and krautrock pulses invoked Silver Apples, for sure; yet the actual trio behind the shamanism (including Geoff Barrow, formerly of Portishead) seemed just of reach, intangible from their murky depths. And for fans far removed from Bristol, who can only clutch two albums and a handful of singles, the distance between band and listener is only amplified. That enigma may have compelled Tom Geens to pull BEAK> into his strange and savage film Couple In A Hole - which, mind you, I haven’t seen, but apparently involves a couple who’ve chosen to live in a hole. Go figure. Anyway, my ignorance enables me to conduct the ultimate test: does the movie’s soundtrack, devised to create tension and foreboding in the depths of the French Pyrenees, stand on its own as a body of work that advances BEAK>’s artistic prowess?
Before we answer that, here’s a secret: BEAK> didn’t build this soundtrack from scratch. Five of the best tracks on the album were pulled straight from their first LP from 2009; only the laser-honed groove “Backwell” was altered in any way (and even then, all they did was shave off 40 seconds of drone before the groove kicks in). Granted, you can’t fault the guys for recycling the serene gondola ride of 'Battery Point', the creeping strings of 'Flax Bourton', or the downtrodden 'The Cornubia'. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you’d suspect that the latter was written in honour of the agoraphobic Karen in the film (played by Kate Dickie); the singer groans lines like ”I never want to sing at all” as if his will to save himself has been utterly crushed.
Elsewhere, 'Eggdog' returns from their second LP. And while it’s hardly the most impressive sample from that era, it shares with 'The Cornubia' that eerie yet familiar vibe of hopelessness, like shambling in a circle and falling back to the starting point in a heap.
While the six recycled songs all fit rather snugly in Couple In A Hole, that’s nearly half of the soundtrack that BEAK> fans have already heard. The new half includes mostly one-minute exercises in unsettling ambience. Which, mind, are a new challenge to the jam-minded BEAK>, and work very well. To feel the full effect of the warbly analog on 'Nailsea', just go driving at night down a normally busy street; before long you’ll wonder if you’re approaching the Twilight Zone. 'How Nice Is This' and 'Remember' evoke a very acute dread with barely the shadow of a synthesizer; the pulsing bass on 'Spittin’ Feathers' suggests that you’d best run the hell away while you still can. And if you don’t, your untimely end awaits in the woozy sketch 'The Axe' – BANG! CRASH! I have no idea what’s happening in the film, but I see someone reeling and blood oozing from her head. Such is the suggestive power that BEAK> can pack into a minute.
Still, that leaves us with only three new songs, i.e song-length songs – and most of ‘em shouldn’t surprise anyone. For those missing that fanged bite from tracks like 'Wulfstan II' (i.e. me), 'PIJ' adds that kick of fiendish psych guitar, this time with some surfy twang. “Timeshare”, meanwhile, rehashes that patented combination of laser-honed groove with the distant analog that portends evil on the horizon. But the smouldering ruins of 'Embers' should stun – a ravaged landscape of twisted violins, it’s easily the most somber drone BEAK have ever captured.
So, back to our opening question: do BEAK> develop as a band by compiling this soundtrack? In one way, yes – the framework of the movie forces them to think about motifs and cohesion, which they’ve certainly never applied to a full-length release before. And indeed, the old and new songs mesh well, like branches in the canopy of the forest. On the other hand, the trio didn’t write that much new material - it’s as if they’ve chosen, once again, to bury their own hole and hide. Still, while Couple in a Hole might disappoint long-time fans, BEAK> can entice even the most seasoned listeners to dive back down with ‘em.
7Lee Adcock's Score