Four years after their last release you would be forgiven for expecting Beirut’s new album No No No to be complex and overwrought. In reality, it is the opposite. Stripped back and much simpler than its predecessors, No No No, clocks in at only 29 minutes and none of its tracks reach four minutes. The result is a much more varied tone, with a more sparring application of the grand folk ensembles that were scattered throughout earlier albums, particularly The Rip Tide, leaving simple compositions of mostly keyboards, percussion and vocals in their place.
In addition to the sparser collection of instruments, the trumpet sections, which have often defined the work of frontman Zach Condon, are used much more selectively in No No No. While they occupied almost every track of The Rip Tide, only the title track, ‘Perth’ and ‘At Once’ include brass sections in No No No. This makes for an odd first listen of the album; so much of what is expected to be executed brilliantly is simply removed, and as a result it feels almost unfinished.
Upon repeat listening however, with expectations tapered to the relative bareness of the album, it feels increasingly full. The instrumental ‘As Needed’, which bisects the album, stands confidently without relying on the brass sounds which the band so often turned to on other albums, and the melancholy trumpets in ‘At Once’ is all the more effective because its inclusion is not a given. The sparseness of brass, along with the complete absence of Condon’s ukulele, are likely the main contributors to the tonal change. But, while they are missed, No No No ultimately stands without them.
The single ‘Gibraltar’, and the album’s title track, which were released in the run up to the album set a high bar, but perhaps misaligned expectations for the rest of the album. ‘No No No’ in particular is much more typical of Beirut’s previous releases than much of the rest of the album. Both install the optimism and marching rhythm of the likes of the band’s most popular releases, such as ‘Nantes’ and ‘Santa Fe’. In many ways the remainder of the album is a departure tonally, as it relies more heavily on more conventional instrumentation and a mixture of bittersweet and light pop sounds.
No No No is a skeletal product when set beside its seemingly more meaty predecessors. Its brevity does however bring a new feel to Zach Condon’s compositions; it is in no way just a rehash of the albums that have brought him success. The complexity of previous records is held back, bringing the melancholy of Condon’s voice to the fore, and then reintroduced to complement it. With repeated listening the substance of the tracks grows and, while not as obvious as his previous ventures, No No No is just as fruitful.