No No No
11 September 2015, 4AD
Beirut’s fourth album, the result of a two-week recording stint in New York, is a refreshing reminder of the importance of experimentation for today’s, and the future’s, music industry. It’s a statement of how indie-rock, folk and a hint of electronica can produce an internationally unique combination, and a refined sound, a breath of fresh air for our chart pop-saturated ears. From Zach Condon’s sophisticatedly lamenting vocals that have led every Beirut record to date, to brand new experiments involving sounds borrowed from all around the world, No No No toys with our appetites for a zesty, upbeat record without falling into the cliché of a boringly repetitive ‘throwback to summer’ sound.
No No No toys with our appetites for a zesty, upbeat record without falling into the cliché of a boringly repetitive ‘throwback to summer’ sound
Opener Gibraltar points us immediately to Beirut’s aforementioned international borrowings, framed with a sustained, warmly textured Bongo beat that resonate with a distinct Afro-Caribbean sound. With this track carefully selected as the opener, we are invited to explore the new direction of Beirut to come, in all its rosily joyous glory.
A polished transition brings us to the title track, where we find the crispest yet most ambiguous lyrics of the album. Following a dreamy but transient opening, Condon introduces us to his mysterious subject matter, who, like him, we “don’t know the first thing about”. With the second verse a lyrical carbon copy of the first, it’s evident the person of mystery is indeed intended to stay as that, but our curiosity is pushed aside while we enjoy the seamless interplay of the drums and strings that bring the track to an abrupt end.
Despite the direction of the first two tracks suggesting otherwise, the record is not in its entirety a shining bundle of optimism. ‘At Once’ and the instrumental ‘As Needed’, with moody strings and lugubrious piano chords aplenty, are the tracks most likely to reflect the personal difficulties Condon experienced while writing this album, facing a divorce and health problems stemming from exhaustion.
Being said, worlds apart from the gloom of ‘At Once’ and ‘As Needed’, ‘Perth’ boasts the catchiest rhythm of the record sure to be involuntarily hummed by listeners for days on end. Provided for us by Aaron Arntz, these bittersweet staccato keys remain at the forefront of the track throughout its entirety, while trumpets, trombones and guitars galore ephemerally float around in the background. ‘Pacheco’ is perhaps the least memorable track of the record. Its neither-here-nor-there rhythm prevents it from having any real development, leaving us marginally dissatisfied come the underwhelming but abrupt ending.
bittersweet staccato keys remain at the forefront, while trumpets, trombones and guitars galore ephemerally float around in the background
The final track, ‘So Allowed’, neatly cradles the album in a nest of dreamy key chords and strings, coupled with just enough vocal to satisfy those of us looking for a final Condon fix. With a crescendo building subtly from the song’s half-way point, the layering of simple yet glowingly effective chord progressions bring the track to a faultless end that supports the craftsmanship of the album as a whole.
Harsher critics than I would now point out how this isn’t an album where every track is an unforgettable hit, and perhaps it isn’t as impressive as the likes of The Flying Club Cup or The Gulag Orkestar with their profound continental folk influences. It is, however, an undeniable example of natural progression at its finest, with the added quality of being deeply contextually-influenced. This record is by no means their best, but it certainly is a good reason to get excited about Beirut’s future, and well worth a listen.