Beirut has never been one for conformity. From Eastern European sounds to French chamber melodies and Mexican brass, Condon and company have experimented with a sweeping variety of music. Still, every song sounds distinctly like the band. With No No No, they attempt to recreate their musical style.
Shedding their usual trumpet, ukulele and accordion for a more stripped down, pop based piano and drums seems like a big move, especially for a band that shot to fame with an extravagantly ambitious first album full of Balkan inspired melodies and melancholia. This album sounds fun and peppy, almost- it sounds stripped down. The story of the album though, helps explain the dramatic shift in techniques.
Zach Condon, the frontman, saw his life crumble before him in the four years between this album and his last, The Rip Tide. Post a total breakdown in Australia, after months of relentless touring, he found himself at what he considered the end of his creativity. Entire albums were scrapped before he finally felt secure enough to release No No No.
The opening track, ‘Gibralter’, is a cheery, optimistic number with a strong beat. It’s easily the most pop Beirut has ever been, yet it is characterized by Condon’s strong warbling vocals. Similar to this is ‘Perth’, a chirpy little number. ‘Pacheco’, ‘At once’ and ‘As needed’ feel like fillers, albeit likeable ones. ‘August Holland’ goes back to what Beirut is best at, complex interlaid melodies that feel effortless. Still, it feels like a lighter song. ‘Fener’ is defined by Condon’s falsetto and piano, and moves the album along. The final song, ‘So Allowed’ ends the album on a happy, optimistic note. It makes you think the best is yet to come.
Overall, there is less chaos. Beirut is known for its clashing trumpets and drums, but here it chooses instead to focus on a few choice instruments. It’s a welcome change, but the entire album feels like odd one out in a compilation, like Beirut is making a cover of one of its old albums. Also, the length of the album (under 30 minutes) makes the listener ache for more, while contributing to the overall feeling of lightness and gaiety. Interestingly, despite some of the filler songs, Beirut manages to keep the music really emotive and raw at times. No No No is a pleasant album, definitely not as challenging and dramatic as before. So now, as Beirut dabbles in contemporary pop-rock, it remains to be seen whether Beirut is actually moving towards a radical new sound, or whether this album will stay a one-off experiment.