Beirut: No No No

Beirut No No NoBeirut
No No No

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The mastermind of Beirut, Zach Condon, has always had a way of singing about a place without actually singing about it. Indie-famous for locking himself in a room for weeks on end and conjuring up the unfamiliar-yet-mystifying sounds of far-off places like Prenzlauer Berg, Rhineland, or even Beirut itself, Condon’s best songs, as we see once again on No No No, imagine the world and its cultures through the lyrical and musical lens of a charmingly child-like simplicity. His songs, like memory, brush up like a tangent on an experience; they recall the places and some faces, but few specifics – like the specter of a subway encounter or fleeting intimacy, what remains are the feelings and a cloud-like imagery, but never a clear portrait and often no names. With his first new album in four years, Condon returns from 2011’s Riptide, a pop-oriented affair that stripped of earlier global-sound-forward efforts with something in between. Apparently the fruit of the turmoil and regained stability following a divorce, No No No, re-introduces listeners to Beirut, offering a few strong tracks to add to the Condon cannon. If No No No were a roll of film (a metaphor that rings only mildly anachronistic given the inherently nostalgic quality of Condon’s oeuvre), it seems that among a handful of unremarkable, percussive-piano lightly-produced numbers with the characteristic, slightly-out-of-tune crooner-y Condon vocals, there are a few numbers worth keeping. Perhaps naturally, the best songs on No No No are all named for places. Though lacking the emotional and instrumental pseudo-rawness of Gulag Orkestar, a track like “Perth,” with its up-beat brushwork on the drums and pleasant interjections of vocal harmony, recalls the timeless quality Beirut listeners expect to get lost in, among vague, sometimes unintelligible, but agreeable, lyrics. Despite several uninteresting numbers, with No No No, Beirut retains a unique place among today’s bands. Somewhere in between the up-beat rhythms and melancholy vocals, the listener is drawn into the idea of a place. Under the guise of Condon’s melodic hypnosis, “Gibraltar” (the name of the album’s best track but also literally a rock stuck between two places on the edge of a continent) becomes an outpost on the precipice of personal meaning.

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About Matthew Herzfeld

Matt Herzfeld is a freelance writer, music supervisor and musician, and serves as Music Project Manager for the French Music Office at the French Embassy in the US. He is based in New York City.
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