My inner cynic wonders whether the new album title from New Mexico-originated indie band Beirut No No No is simply the sentiment of band leader Zach Condon's personal battle with his exterior as an ascendant pop music star? It's that moment when most musicians, no matter how artful they may be, need to find some halfway point that enables them to do their art and still sell enough recordings to be commercially viable as a group.
The first thing that is evident on this record is that the music Beirut is playing is not as weepy and introspective as it has been on many of their earlier albums (I have almost all of them). At risk of sounding like one of those old school read-too-much-between-the-lines record reviewers, perhaps might No No No the exasperated sound of Beirut accepting commercial compromise? The Wiki says lead singer and driving force Zach Condon had been admitted to a hospital for exhaustion after extensive touring and a divorce in the wake of this album.
Perhaps this album might have been titled The Beirut Sells Out?
I don't think so.
But it is interesting that on their first album for the 4AD label (vs. their own self published recordings) that the overall sound is decidedly more straightforward and accessible than the earlier ones.
I don't view this as a bad thing, mind you. Its a good thing, in fact.
Perhaps the bonus disc on 2009's March of the Zapotec was something of a hint of simpler things to come, what with its sequencer and drum machine backing tracks vs. the sad-Mariachi-Band-Lost-In-1930s-Europe flavor of the lovely first disc. Heck the last track there, "No Dice," was pretty much straight ahead dance track instrumental.
2011's Riptide also kept the aching horns and began to cut a path toward somewhat simpler songs; overall the sound was less somber and ultimately beautiful
Anyhow, change was in the air so it is no surprise that the latest album is a more straightforward venture.
So how does the new album sound? Its nice! Zach Condon's angelic voice is sweet as ever -- think Emitt Rhodes, Ra Ra Riot, Rufus Wainwright, early Billy Joel, etc. The music here on No No No is certainly Beirut-flavored, complete with the obligatory horn sections. But the song structures are a bit more, well, song-y (if you will) and less dependent upon the sound of the instruments -- be they Balkan, Mexican, European, etc. -- being the effective hook that you, the listener, will remember.
Here the instrument textures are just that and the focus is on the songs and the melodies.
"August Holland" sounds like an early Billy Joel-flavored piece, replete with its pumpy-piano chording. "As Needed" might be a backing track for an imaginary lost 1968 Astrid Gilberto collaboration with Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks (a fellow, who I would love to hear do arrangements for this group someday). "Perth" has a riff that The Captain and Tennille might have loved. "Fener" feels like a lost Wings track by way of Phil Spector and Mike Oldfield -- I love the sudden tempo change with its Moog-y flavored synth solo line (that sounds like an outtake from side two of Tubular Bells).
The fidelity on this album is generally very pleasant and enjoyable. I suspect it is a digital recording. But whoever mastered the vinyl and the digital download did a nice job -- the music doesn't fall apart when you turn it up loud and there aren't many harsh edges I'm hearing to make even the 320 kbps MP3s sound bad. Initial pressings of No No No come on pretty Robins-egg-blue vinyl that is thick, quiet and well centered. Probably my only complaint is that there isn't much in the way of liner notes and such on this, but I guess that just keeps us focused on the music.... which is what matters most at the end of the day.
Its a good thing I liked the album because it would be a PR crime to not be able to write this last line of admitted cliche summation: No No No is a resounding Yes Yes Yes.
There, I said it.