The brilliant Zach Condon and his band Beirut are back with their new album, No No No. To this the Limonadier is going to say ‘Yes Yes Yes’ (you saw that one coming, didn’t you?) Yes to the Wes Anderson aesthetic, yes to the unusual, tinkering arrangements, and yes to the frontman’s charming voice and unarticulated words!
After Cherbourg, Nantes and Santa Fe, Beirut meet us this time at “Gibraltar” to begin their latest opus, where we find tribal percussions that flirt with a playful melody, embellished with the handclaps that are Beirut‘s trademark. The introduction of the title track shows what the group is best known for: wordless onomatopoeia in place of a chorus. The melody is like an invitation to go on a journey: “if we don’t go now, we won’t get very far,” Zach Condon warns.
The album is very lively to start with, becoming more and more serious as the piano and the slower percussion of “At Once” which introduces the brass and the singer’s doubts. “How do you know, at once, at last, at all?” he asks us before introducing us to “August Holland”, a smoother track, whose motifs don’t really break loose, leaving the track not particularly memorable. Next comes the instrumental “As Needed”, which gives pride of place to strings, brass, and a fine cut melody which makes use of the ukulele and some jazzy percussion. In this wordless tranquility, we almost find a trace of some musical therapy, speaking perhaps of where the album came from.
The road then takes us to to “Perth” where we’re inside a toy shop, with its simple and lighthearted energy. However, our Australian visit is a bit repetitive and peters out with a choral finale that struggles to make much of an impression. Up next is the piano chord introduction of “Pacheco”, which doesn’t really stay with us. The slower, bloated rhythm, the nonchalant and nearly apathetic voices – we don’t get immersed as we reach the end of the record.
It’s the same problem with “Fener”, and we’re beginning to think that all the tracks have this same limpness, but then comes the strange rhythmic break in the middle of the track. No No No closes with the tender “So Allowed” and the simple piano that accompanies Zach Condon’s lovely voice, to which strings were added. The strings replace the piano for a while before giving up their place for the brass which comes in to close the newest of Beirut’s musical journeys.
The mix of genres is still present in the fifth effort of this musical alchemist. The mix of world music and folk revives the mythology of travel, and the lyricism that we have come to know and love. This isn’t a major stylistic revolution in Beirut’s career, and it is the first album composed by the whole band and not just by Zach Condon. The fact remains that this is a good Beirut album. However the long wait, due to personal hitches, has perhaps dampened the spirit of those fans who have been with them from the very beginning.
Some lament the incomplete effect of No No No but we can appreciate the roving journeys, through the Balkans for example, which are reminiscent of trips the band has taken us on before. The revelations about Zach Condon’s private life hasn’t altered the quality of the music on Beirut’s newest album, and we enjoyed seeing them in concert on the 22nd September at the Zénith de Paris arena.
On the other side of the Channel, south east London was filled with the sweet sounds of harmonizing trumpets and Zach Condon’s lilting voice as Beirut were met by a huge audience at the O2 Arena in Brixton on the 24th September. Opened by the Brazilian Tiganá Santana, whose beautiful, though quiet, acoustic stylings admittedly struggled against the incessant conversation of the audience, Beirut debuted their new album, with the eponymous “No No No” being met with particular enthusiasm. However we were still treated to the classics of their earlier work, making for an overall wonderful evening. Beirut are consistently a treat to see live, as their high octane performances never fail to leave you in a good mood.