Review Summary: Beirut’s tearful, crowning achievement.
It feels like just yesterday I was extolling the new Beirut record (2019’s Gallipoli) as being their best in a very long time. And I still feel that way. I’ve relistened to that record so many times since it came out and it hasn’t lost it’s luster for me in the slightest. It’s a warm record, full of life and nostalgic reminiscence. Basically everything that made me fall in love with this band nearly 2 decades ago. Judging by the tepid reaction online, not that many people appreciated it. But I did. After releasing their odds-and-ends album (2022’s Artifacts), there was almost the faintest sense of finality to Beirut’s story. At least, that’s how I perceived it.
The story of how Hadsel came to be comes straight from bandleader Zack Condon himself. Where Gallipoli was somewhat a full-band effort, Hadsel was completely a one-man operation. Initially recorded just before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the world, and completed in the midst of said pandemic, Condon had the perfect excuse to get back to what he refers to as a “DIY approach.” Just him, an organ, some drum machines, two large analog synths, and all the time in the world. And what emerged was this. Something so pure, so clear. Simply put, Hadsel is nothing short of a triumph.
On Gallipoli, I lamented that the album was dragged down by focusing on being mellow mood music, rather than good music. So it may surprise you when I say that this record is actually mellower than their last; featuring even more instrumental passages. And softer, mellower ones at that. In fact, Hadsel almost feels dream pop in execution at times (“Balon,” “Spillhaugen,” “Regulatory”). Of course, this is still a chamber pop affair in the end, but the introduction of these new sounds has once again helped keep the Beirut formula fresh without throwing it away. While the synths felt distracting on their last few records, Hadsel weaves them in effortlessly, tucked neatly between the warm, acoustic layered wall of sound. And I don’t use that term lightly. If you know me, I hate direct comparisons. I try my hardest to avoid them in my reviews. But I genuinely hear a bit of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds on this record. Call that blasphemy if you will, but I hear that magic in this album. When a purely instrumental track like “Melbu” can elicit real emotion out of me, I have to tip my hat right off my head.
Am I calling Zack Condon an auteur on the level of Brian Wilson? No. That’d be going too far. But it’s disturbing (and kind of exciting) that I’m even considering that a possibility, isn’t it? The production on this album is just that damn immaculate. Just when I think the album has finally reached a lull, it keeps me engaged. Even typing this review, I’ve stopped typing mid-sentence just to admire a song like “Island Life.” I’ve been a detractor of “mood albums” for a while, but Hadsel is a mood album done oh-so-right. Condon’s vocals act as merely another melodic instrument on this album, so trying to pick apart the lyrics would be pointless. I know it’s reductive to say “just ignore the lyrics and vibe,” but I can’t give you a better piece of advice. Detach yourself from the current year and the cynicism you rightfully feel. Close your eyes and close off all other unnecessary senses. Let this album speak to you in quiet whispers and cold tears. Like it did for me.