[NOT QUITE POP] Little Beirut's debut, High Dive, isn't quite pop. It goes down easy enough—infectious melodies, casually perfected structures, instantly memorable turns of phrase—but pop demands singles. For all the quartet's invention, an endless parade of potential hits numbs. Pop albums need filler.
But Little Beirut's also not pop. Hamilton Sims (vocals, guitar) and Edwin Paroissien (guitar, vocals) have distilled everything appealing from '90s alt jangles and recent Brit guitar rock while avoiding each idiom's greater faults—we'll assume a jar of willful pretension and empty swagger lingers about the studio. Depending upon the song, their vocals are as likely to spiral toward a Teenage Fanclub brand of measured euphoria as wander 'midst a hedge maze of pleasantly jagged riffs. Everything genuinely seems built around a guiding vision, yet I'm damned if I can figure the purpose.
Famously, Bush the elder—upon first visiting Portland and finding himself surprised, during those halcyon days, by a gaggle of our more theatrical anarchists' protests—dubbed Portland "Little Beirut." Borrowing that name for one's homegrown band hints toward either agitprop or a broad appreciation for gallows whimsy, and Little Beirut's not without wit. "Love During Wartime," a slow-chugging, absolutely snarkless paean to the charms of Condoleezza Rice, only nudges satire because of our presumptions. As with the best of Cake, an ambling trumpet pointedly distracts; there's no need for further verses, but ending the song renders the point glib.
Most of the tracks avoid instant context—thumbnail narratives assemble moment to moment. The lyrics of "Sniper's Lament" ponder sociopathic violence, but the backdrop's at most bittersweet: no obvious melancholia (opening piano chords aside, arguably), no obvious psychosis (spiky Church-ish riffs aside, arguably), and one can't help but get caught up in the melody. Opener "She's a Martyr," likely refers to the, ahem, politics of dancing, but pre-chorus trill "I'll do anything" is what you'll echo to the steering wheel.
Throughout High Dive, I found myself helplessly repeating phrases without any notion as to what they meant. Surrender to incoherent singalongs pretty much defines pop music, but it also dissuades focus. Seriously, guys—a little more filler.
Little Beirut celebrates the release of
Friday, March 7, with Derby & Lael Alderman at Berbati's. 9:30 pm. $7. 21+.