By Audrey Avril, ’19
Beirut’s No No No came at the wrong time. Just when I was getting over summer, this album dropped.
Beirut is a band that definitely gives off a vintage traveler’s vibe. Gulag Orkestar, the debut album by front man Zach Condon, before a band was formed around his ideas, is a luxurious tour through Eastern Europe with a few long, sensitive moments off the Mediterranean. The Flying Club Cup is a trip to France and Western Europe along the Atlantic, exploring the tragedies of old romanticism from its roots. The band’s previous album, 2011’s The Rip Tide, seemed to do a full swing back across the Atlantic, spending a brisk summer sailing from East Coast to West.
With the orchestral-like accompaniment and the almost theatrical, often forlorn voice at the heart of it, many of Beirut’s songs sound very distinctly “old world” or “vintage.” There is a sense of loss, longing, and nostalgia that crops up in a lot of Beirut’s music. While The Rip Tide became less “old-timey,” it had an air of coastal gentility, of long gone summers on a chilly beach in Maine (a definitely not coincidental number of their music videos take place on a beach). No No No, released last Friday, is similarly going to make you want to hit up the beach one last time with the promise of days gone by.
The tracks on No No No take on an overall simpler sound than The Rip Tide. On No No No, Beirut tries to take this idea further, and further south. There is more of a Caribbean influence to the sound, but like much of Beirut’s other albums, the quality of the international sound is not authentic, but a mix of influences that gives it just a pleasant enough vibe. It is a good album for playing out of a tiny radio at the beach, with some light, fun, or blissfully soulful songs. Title track “No No No” is an uplifting tune reminiscent of “Scenic World” from Lon Gisland. “August Holland” seems to expand on the sound of their last album (and the song “Santa Fe” specifically). It may be their most pop-like album, being almost downright dance-able on tracks like “Perth” and “Fener.” The album finishes on “So Allowed,” highlighting the swelling richness of the instrumentation and Condon’s voice.
On finishing the album, though, longtime fans may find themselves nostalgic for the long-gone days of 2006, with the band’s first album. Compared to their older work, there is a noticeable absence in the instrument lineups. Maybe it is due to the movement of the sound away from the old world, but the band has dropped some interesting elements to their sound, like the occasional accordion. Compared to some of the small orchestras that the band has collected in the past, the lineup seems a little spare, and it shows in the sound. This leaves some tracks feeling half-constructed, like the empty “At Once” or the space-filler “As Needed.”
That’s not so say that any songs are particularly awful, but as a whole the album does give an underwhelming impression once it has been run through. It is a fairly decent album, and is great if you are in a Beirut mood. However, compared to their other work, No No No is a little bit of a descent from a high note. The tracks don’t stand out as hoped, and the sense that the band is streamlining their sound may mean longtime fans are going to have to grin and bear the direction the band is going in. All in all, a good album, but just a decent Beirut album.