Geoff Barrow capped off a busy 2012 -- which included music from his hip-hop collective Quakers and Drokk, an imaginary soundtrack for the long-running Mega City Four comic -- with >>, the second album from his most established project aside from Portishead, Beak>. The band's self-titled debut was a quickly recorded affair that gave an appealing rawness to their blend of muffled Krautrock rhythms and scuffed analog synths, but also felt unfinished on occasion. This isn't a problem on >>, which is smoother and more focused than its predecessor, but sacrifices little of Beak>'s innate roughness and strangeness. These songs still sound like they were recorded in a bunker with old gear that was too battered to be called vintage, but there's more flow and immediacy to them (which, ultimately, only makes them sound more mysterious). The band's playing sounds more dynamic than ever, particularly on motorik-driven numbers like "Elevator" and "Yatton," where interlocking synths and guitars chug along over a lock groove that suggests hurtling down the Autobahn in a tank rather than a sleek sports car. >>'s streamlined sonics also bring the spookiness that lingered around BEAK>'s edges to the fore: claustrophobic synth tones writhe over each other on opening track "The Gaol," setting the stage for further uneasy excursions such as the bleak call-and-response of "Ladies' Mile," the oddly mournful "Eggdog," and "Deserters," which builds on this paranoid vibe with murky vocals and some surprisingly searing guitars. Indeed, Beak>'s rock outbursts feel more natural, and more powerful, on >> than they did on the band's debut, whether it's the gloriously ugly distortion on "Spinning Top" or "Wulfstan II," which blends organ, chanted vocals, and down-and-dirty riffs into a sinister epic named for an 11th century English bishop. Beak> sound more premeditated here than they did before, and that's a good thing; >>'s dour charms just get richer with each listen.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares