When watching the London-based art rock collective, Rude Mechanicals, perform at Kent’s Homespun festival earlier this month, a friend of mine observed that all of the band’s five members appeared to be various manifestations of Brian Eno’s split personalities. There was Roxy Eno, with long, bleached hair blasting his way through a saxophone solo; Dr. Eno, transcribing his PhD thesis into abstract guitar melodies; The Rocky Horror Eno Show, projecting surrealist narratives at a bemused, but mostly respectful audience; Giant Eno, who felt most at home in this Twin Peaks universe, keeping the beat with an array of wire brushes; and Eno the Closeted Exhibitionist, plodding along on the bass in the darkest corner of the room. A memorable experience indeed.
It seems that the aforementioned Dada project isn’t the only group of artists toying with the idea deconstructing identity. Bristol’s Beak> are exploring much the same territory with their new EP, a split release with themselves. BEAK><KAEB is comprised of four tracks. Two songs are attributed to the Beak> we know and love and the other two tracks are by their mirrored personalities.
Opening track, the Meander, is wonky, hallucinatory and disorientating like a good ketamine trip or a cult baptism gone wrong. The clockwork drumming is reminiscent of all that mysterious krautrock stuff in your dad’s warped-old record collection. Its sister song, Broken Window, has little synth parts that speak volumes and evoke Delia Derbyshire’s experimental electronic work at the Radiophonic Workshop. It’s unlikely that you will tell your friends about the nagging nostalgia you’re likely to feel (for a nuclear holocaust that never was) when listening to this song, but perhaps you will invite them over for a smoke and a binge-watching session of some classic 1960s Dr. Who episodes.
The reverse side is just as elusive. When We Fall reminds one of a transcendental drive through the countryside, burning bright with flames of the morning sun. Its deceptive melancholy hints at an impeding nervous breakdown, but without any of that hiccup cheekiness Eddie Cochran soiled the condition with. The last song is called There Is No One and features the white-rap stylings of Californian wordsmith Jonwayne. This unsteady indie/hip-hop hybrid recalls all those Gorillaz CDs that are seducing wayward dust in your secret sex-toy cupboard, but actually, no… it’s quite a good song. I’m just not sure what it’s about. Solitude, I think.
No longer keen to be seen as a mere summer side-project (the band claims its members from Portishead, Team Brick and Fuzz Against Junk), Beak> are taking steps to forge their own identity. It could be argued that this EP demonstrates that they don’t know where to begin, but that is all balderdash, of course. The two full-length albums that precede this release are testament to their abilities. The split personality thing not only accounts for Beak’s new, “expanding, floating membership,” it also serves as a sideways marketing ploy and a potential Friday night conversation starter for drunk, sexless music geeks down at the pub. Beak> are acutely aware of who they are and what their mission statement is. Their music is explorative, unnerving and sometimes tricky, but they don’t care who knows it. They’re quite possibly the most exciting thing happening in the UK music scene right now, but making a gross, general statement like that is as helpful as it is presumptuous, so I’ll just stop right here.