By Jake Saunders
What can be said of the musical compositions as of 2011? Has the traditional styling of the modern folk and Americana sound blended finely into that of focused pop and attentively electronic blues melodies, changing in dynamics completely, or has it remained in similar fashion but constructed, as well as evolved, itself into a completely new piece of fresh, raw material?
Perchance, some may conclude, the aesthetic value has deduced a precisely concise mixture of all relevant materials past. Conjuration of the perfect blend of frivolous horns resounding against the ingrain of the blood-churning, drum-pounding pulse whilst the shaking timbre of silhouetted woodwinds into a deeper resonance of resounding keyboarded notation following the electronically stylized rhythms to compose a distinctly recognizable and beautiful soundscape; encompassing all acts are both Beirut and Iron & Wine.
Beirut is an American band and original solo project from Zach Condon. Fronting powerful vocalizations and knock-kneed melodies, a distinctive sound is usurped transcendental of typical braved musical venture. Valiant performances of songs from previous albums, such as “Gulag Orkestar” and “Nantes,” prove through that the adaptability of Beirut is of significant remark, and nothing confirms this course better than their 2011 album, The Rip Tide. Though largely drawing upon influences European, that of France and the Balkans, this album decides to reside amidst the feel of conventional American pop, however emerging with the bold and unique formidable techniques that is, utterly, Beirut. Without regard, this album denies restraint and flows creatively forth as waves of brilliance as deemed by “Port of Call” and “A Candle’s Fire;” magnificently luminous and ultimately the chief sound Beirut intends to convey. Scaling melodies from stifled violin to the staccato-esque signature horns, in this case trumpet, beautifully escalate into perfect harmony; a composition of which seldom can create, and as triumphantly so, when then, there is then Iron & Wine.
Sam Beam, conceivably widely recognized by his stage name as Iron & Wine, is also of American root and has produced a number of albums, studio as well as live, and all of which at great length are simply extraordinary. From countless bravado and continuous melodic shaping of eccentric vocal harmony of baritone emerging audaciously into falsetto mark a beautiful reminiscence of shapely tones and crafty overtures. Perhaps of great inquisition, pieces from The Shepherd’s Dog album, “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” shows the true essence of Beam’s delicate vocal range while songs such as “Peace Beneath the City” suggest a moderately deeper quintessence of a rapturous, somber tune bequeath ominous bass tones overlaying a subtle, yet mildly psychedelic, texture for a truly deep, experimental dexterity. As for their current album; Kiss Each Other Clean presents absolutely as enticing melodic symphonies and delicate vocal performances, consistently laden with the overall polyphonic ambiance of their 1970-stylistic harmonic texture. With songs such as “Big Burned Hand” evoking the sensational riff of blues and contingent jazz saxophone not far from the sensation induced from other tracks; “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me” conjures the same blues and jazz formation descending from muted horns trumpeting in the background amidst the triangulation of formidable tenor harmony of Beam’s signature fragile voice, though robustly ending in the effervescent clash of cymbal and electronica clamour, concludes its form in opinionated bass notes in brass.
Nevertheless accomplishing a feat of similar structure is “Payne’s Bay” with its ending of orderly constructed percussion clangs persisting amongst the alarum-crescendo of muted brass until finally subsiding with an abrupt end in a single tuba note concluding the song with a sense of merriment and steady conviction among it’s “…headstrong, today” lyrical counsel. However, un-mockingly, in lyrical message is Iron &Wine’s “Rabbit Will Run” integrating effortlessly, with comparable constructs from preceding works; respectfully, ideas from the 2007 album, The Shepherd’s Dog, seem to reminisce wonderfully.
When in comparison of one another, both artists persevere in their albums a few works that salvage the old as well as incorporating the new ideas into complete coalescence. “The Rip Tide” is solace quite lovely in semblance rather like melodic technique and notation alike past efforts, The Flying Club Cup, as well as Gulag Orkestar, both of the Balkan influence, are au contraire at once whilst incorporation of a new indie feel with a resonance of pop textured brass and euphonium leaving ears entirely fulfilled. Of self-effacing comparison is “Half Moon” as Beam’s rich vocals slice through barriers in elegant sync betwixt buoyant guitar chords and under it the tender shake of genteel percussion in alluring harmony, preservéd by his gentle vocal work, alike the aforementioned “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” parting ways in clear captivating thrall.
Substantially up to par vocally is “Godless Brother in Love” as the melody sails tenderly upon waves of steady flowing piano tones and equally matched by the passive stringéd pluck of somber guitar chords finally building itself mighty in polyphonic textured voice accompaniment at the height of its great surf, slowly, finally, bearing down by soloing out in monophonic piano keys into a pleasant tempest subsidence. Equivalently, the melodic configuration of Beirut’s “The Peacock,” gives rise in cordial fashion; homophonic rapture of perchance the accordion, or even the semblance of pipe organ, addressing Condon’s vocal stir in uprising manner, gallantly flooding and gracefully quipping themselves amidst the usurping chime of harmonizing vocals with a streaming flow of muted trumpet elegantly resounding and eventually residing into the smooth transition of that single piano-keyed surge.
Standing in the doorway, however, is the cross-examination of their distinct differences. As we may note many differentiations in the musical composition of the two, there stands a significant and interesting figure: the focal point for each. Delving deeply into the similarities, we may remark upon the very nature of each individual dissimilarity, though not many, listening to Condon’s “Vagabond” in comparison to Beam’s “Monkey’s Uptown” they diverge. Both songs start slowly, introductory notes upon accordion versus the electronic synthesizer remain monophonically textured until, for “Vagabond,” notes from other instrumentation, trumpet, trombone and euphonium allude – while “Monkey’s” takes a slightly different twist; as opposed to continuing on with guitar, it escalates the remainder by electronically synthesized notes. Where the emphasis for Beirut is steadily planted into their instrumental passages of often bass, percussion and varying brass consistency, Iron & Wine’s approach moreover accents the gift of storytelling and use of literarily lyrical passageways. In either case, both songs, as well as the artists, are driven by their unique, innate tenacity. Their determined gifts implicated within their music persist; where Condon infuses his rhythm of pop into colorful instrumentation with short versed lyrics, Beam fits it into his own scale of more subtle instrumentation with soulful lyrical composition, reverently.
Perhaps the most pop focused of pieces from each compounding artist are Beirut’s “East Harlem” and “Santa Fe;” and “Walking Far from Home” as well as “Tree by the River” from Iron & Wine. Polyphonic harmonies resounding alongside electronically synthetic foot-tapping beats of “Santa Fe” and “Walking Far from Home” coalesce eagerly beside accordion focused, beget lyrically catchy, rhythms of “East Harlem” to the guitar focused, storytelling formality amidst catchy waves of percussion based indie-pop rhythms finally forging an elegant and pleasant arc of a folk-oriented, widely-influenced variety; above all, an orchestrally sound, polyphonically textured, rhythmically inundating and ultimately uniquely epic pieces of musical composition.