I tend to shy away from hyped bands. This isn’t out of a holier-than-thou disdain for popular opinion, but because of the trend that hyped bands often become over hyped bands that see little chance of living up to the hyperbolic qualities of the hype machine. See: Arcade Fire. See also: Beirut.
During the past week, Caitlin of Everyday Caitlin wrote some very appreciative things about Beirut. So, after she was kindly patient through my gushing over Two Gallants (see: coming attractions), I asked her to convince me. It was no easy task (after all, I’ve been hearing about Beirut for over a year and a half), but she succeeded with such elegance and eloquence in a few short paragraphs that I asked her to expand it for the first (and hopefully not last) T-Sides guest feature: T-Sides B-Sides.
Thus, here we have it: Caitlin’s case for Beirut. Please give her your attention, your kindness, your comments – because if she can help them win me over, she can persuade anyone.
You should never say you like something (or worse, love it), without being able to plead your case properly. In the past I have strayed away from announcing that I am anything or any one’s biggest fan. I am not a collector, and never have I planned on reading every word Hemingway wrote, or eat at all the best Fondue restaurants in the city, or wait in line for a movie or book. I am not particular, and what is worse, I do not solely seek out what I know I’ll like, but rather, dip my ears into various speakers of aesthetic and see what turns me on.
This makes me an outcast in the world of music snobs. I should have accepted this position a long time ago but I somehow managed to slip through the cracks and whenever some well-dressed handsome lad asks me, “Have you ever heard of ____ band?” I always feel comfortable insinuating but not elaborating, “yeah, but not much.” While you may be inclined to call me a phony, I will ask you to please reserve those thoughts for a different time and place. This post is about Beirut, and your aggression is not welcome here.
So pour a glass of wine (preferably French) and get ready.
The first Beirut track I ever heard was “The Long Island Sound.” I was sitting on my lonely bed in San Francisco, an entire country away from New York, and all I could feel was my own absence. The track lacks vocals, and is very short, but it is a glimpse into what is both prolific and instantly beautiful. In one minute and eighteen seconds, I felt a very distinct and almost tangible emotion. After listening to an hour of Beirut, I felt a thunderstorm of personal incarnations. I was inclined to thumb through the journal I kept while in Europe a few years back to remind myself of the sensation of standing next to the Rhine, cold and a bit drunk, a myriad of brokenheartedness and absolute awe.
Aside from horns and ukulele (which “the Long Island Sound” proves to be enough), the next thing I loved about Beirut was founder Zach Condon’s vocals. Not everyone will feel the same. In response to my almost brainwashed support of Beirut, an ornery friend of mine quipped, “I want to kick the larynx out of that guy’s throat. His vibrato makes me ill to the point where it’s like,-well, its either him or me.”
Though agro, Mr. Crankypants has a point. Condon’s vocals are not ubiquitously lovable. However, they are stunning to me because they sound both pained and pure. They make me think, “Oh, yeah, this is what a gentleman sounds like.” When you watch a video of him sing, it is not unlike watching one of those heart-crushingly talented crooners our parents loved so much. He puts his hand on his chest not to be “Brandon Flowers” showy, but because he is singing really fucking hard. He is only 21 years old. It is all together moving and sexy. Most importantly, it is romantic: the word I most associate with Beirut.
Some Beirut, such as the Gulag Orkestar track “Postcards from Italy,” is slow at the start and then cuts off your curious boredom with the respite of belting horns. It will be your lost and found love, your old friend that is now new again, or better yet, your reflection of the whole damn thing and the acceptance that it was what it was and you’re forever changed because of it. It is going to make you feel uncomfortable things whether you want it to or not.
I most enjoy listening to Beirut, especially “Elephant Gun,” while I walk through the Financial District on my way home from work. The stunning horns and violins almost create a ballet of the corporate suits and bustling city folk. In the intention of all good art, I am transported elsewhere.
The Flying Club Cup, Beirut’s newest album, is a drunken cab ride home through a city that broke you. It is an uncertain future and a beguiling past. The “Nantes” lyric, “in a year, a year or so, this will slip in to the sea,” will resonate with all of us who presently feel the burn of something lost but are fully aware that the pain is not as lasting as the memory.
The track “The Penalty” not only made me homesick, but recognized itself doing so with the lyrics, “Impassable night, in a crowd of homesick fully grown children.” Upon hearing this, I was forced to acknowledge that when we sit in bars, amongst our friends, in a city so far away from where we are all really from, all that binds us is what we collectively miss and what we universally hope to bring to this new place. This unity and solidarity in being young and lost is where Condon’s story as a high school dropout turned European bohemian come understandably cliché Brooklynite resonates in all of us.
Other tracks on The Flying Club Cup, such as the title track and “A Sunday Smile” are a bit playful. This is a nice accompaniment to the musical theater-esque “Cliquot,” with guest vocals from Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallett. “Cliquot” has an almost WWI love story feel. The drums are not unlike what a soldier might pound on in a field, and the lyrics, “What melody will lead my lover from his bed?/What melody will see him in my arms again?” are too A Farewell to Arms to go unnoticed.
Speaking of Hemingway, I am intellectually inclined to pair The Flying Club Cup with my personal favorite, A Moveable Feast: Hemingway’s posthumous novel about artists and alcohol in 1920’s Paris. Hemingway likens Paris to both the most enchanting place in the world and an actual essence you can take with you forever (hence the title). It is an acknowledgment of being young, having many loves, and the artist’s foresight into hindsight. The same can be said about Beirut and the emotion that Condon desires of his audience. If Condon has never read this book, I will most certainly send a copy his way. I might even, you know, deliver it personally if he so desires.
Beirut: “Long Island Sound” (download)
Beirut: “Postcards From Italy” (download)
Beirut: “Elephant Gun” (download)
Beirut: “Nantes” (download)
Beirut: “The Penalty” (download)
Beirut: “Scenic World” (download)
Many thanks to Caitlin for these lovely words. I’m assuming by now, you’re all ordering these albums/ep? Excellent. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go listen to “Nantes” on repeat. Standard T-Sides programming will return next week.