Beirut (photo by Drew Reynolds, PR)
No No No
Zach Condon is the heart, soul and creative mind behind Beirut, a band that first emerged in 2006 with Gulag Orkestar. Four years after Beirut’s third release, The Rip Tide, Condon and his cohorts have returned with No No No.
The years leading up to the writing and recording of No No No were difficult ones for Condon. The multi-instrumentalist found himself in an internal battle with his health, his art, and, especially, his psyche. Condon has always been open about his struggles with insomnia and anxiety, ranging from stage fright to fear of flying. While on a 2013 tour of Australia and in the midst of a divorce, Condon was hospitalized for exhaustion. Despite convalescing in Brooklyn, where he lives, and in Istanbul, where he found new love, Condon still struggled with self-doubt and writer’s block. However, with the trusted assistance of his core bandmates, bassist Paul Collins and drummer Nick Petree, Condon was able to forge ahead with a new Beirut album.
No No No might be structurally bare bones and even veering on EP-length—the album is just over 29 minutes— but it doesn’t mean that Condon has completely turned his back on the ornate, global flavor of the band’s older releases. Instead, those elements embellish and complement the new songs, rather than dominate them. A good example can be heard in the album’s title track, only lightly enhanced with brass as opposed to allowing horns to take center stage, as they have in the past. In the song “At Once,” the brass is allowed a bit more room to take over, but even here, there is restraint.
The streamlining of arrangements and instruments on No No No allows for nuances in Condon’s voice, a detail sometimes lost on older recordings, and he takes a more prominent place as a singer of his own songs. Condon’s skills fronting a small group take priority here, over the very different role as arranger of larger ensembles. “Fener” is a good vehicle for this new approach, using just the core trio of Condon, Collins, and Petree.
Despite its pruned-back approach, No No No is possibly the most joyous collection of songs yet from Beirut. “August Holland” and the peppy “Gibraltar” boast uplifting melodies, while “Perth” is practically a straight-up pop song. Condon deftly skips from instrument to instrument, including keyboards, pump organ, celeste, mellotron, trumpet, ukulele and percussion.
While earlier Beirut works may have been intricate and complex, No No No is a fine example of a less-is-more approach to music making. Poignantly, Condon’s personal struggles led him to a path of reserved articulation; it’s a fresh start. Sometimes there is as much beauty found in a simple sketch as there is in a lavish creation.