Beak>

>>>

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"You don't like our music cuz it ain't up on the radio," Beak>'s Geoff Barrow sings on >>> with something approaching pride. This contrarian attitude defines the band's third album: Barrow and company could have easily made another album of sinister motorik-driven instrumentals like >>, but this time, they blow up their music. Since Beak> haven't released a full-length in six years and now include Moon Gangs' Will Young among their ranks, some evolution was inevitable. Even so, >>> reveals some drastic changes. The lock grooves that powered Beak>'s first two albums are almost entirely absent, freeing them to double down on their distinctively murky, eerie moods and express them in new ways. The vocals that served as texture on the band's previous work come to the fore on >>>, bringing with them more structured songwriting. However, the closer Beak> get to conventional notions of pop music, the stranger they sound. "RSI," the only song here with a motorik beat, comes the closest to what listeners might expect from a more accessible version of Beak> as it hurtles along on its lock groove toward a starscape of synths. More often, >>>'s vocal-driven tracks are fascinatingly damaged, hinting at something dark looming in the past or on the horizon. "The future's kinda sketchy so the people gotta get along," Barrow mutters on the skulking "Brean Down," an unlikely but winning collision of Can's intricate rhythms and Nirvana's gloom. "Harvester" is even stranger, setting lyrics that teeter between ominous and philosophical ("Gotta choose your battles if you wanna get home") to syrupy guitars and lunging strings. "When We Fall," a standout track from 2015's BEAK><KAEB EP, still sounds like the symphonic folk-pop theme song from some forgotten '70s disaster movie, while the stark synth meditation "Birthday Suit" combines the beauty of Barrow's film score work with affectingly submerged vocals. Adding hooks helps Beak>'s unease get under listeners' skins faster, but >>> also boasts some of the band's most gripping instrumentals. "Allé Sauvage" combines the heat of Barrow's drumming -- which has never sounded better -- and icy synth arpeggios into a track that stakes its own territory within techno, jazz, and sci-fi disco. Its adventurousness still doesn't prepare listeners for the hair-raising "Abbots Leigh," which begins with a nightmarish crescendo and slowly morphs into a funereal anthem that reaffirms just how fearless Beak> are in their pursuit of disturbing sounds. Some of the band's most entertaining and most challenging music, >>>'s eclectic experiments prove that the greater-than symbol at the end of Beak>'s name isn't just for show -- they keep pushing forward, and it's thrilling to go along on the ride with them.

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