Horns. If there’s one thing that sums Beirut up for me, it’s horns.
They’re never far from the surface of the band’s songs, often taking on central roles in the way a guitar might elsewhere, and the effect is beautiful. It’s a refuge from the standard guitar-bass-drums-vocals formula which makes up a large portion of modern Rock.
I have a particular fondness for horns in popular music, which I can trace back to the protracted Britpop period. For many people, Britpop might be most memorable as a Tabloid-newspaper-fueled “feud” between Oasis and Blur (with Jarvis Cocker standing bemusedly off to one side muttering about underwear), but to me there was a much easier, and more rewarding way to establish the ebb and flow of the movement – horns. Namely, the Kick Horns. Whenever I bought a new CD, I’d scan the liner notes for evidence of the Kick Horns’ presence. You could claim to be “Britpop” without them, but it all rang a bit hollow.
The thing about the Kick Horns, interesting as their ubiquity was, their contribution was generally to add an upbeat, triumphal air to Britain’s poppy opuses. Or opii. Or whatever the correct plural is. Horns these days though, they’ve moved on a bit. Rather than being the shiny detailing on a song which is underpinned by something else, they’ve moved a little more into the fore, and broadened their range – from Jazz stylings to Mariachi leanings to Marching Band pomp.
And yet, important as the horns are to Beirut, it’s actually deeply unfair of me to focus on them. Beirut’s music is made of a far more complex interplay of elements. Accordion; trombone; violin; Jack Condon’s distinctive voice; wheely bins.
Um, well, at least, there’s wheely bins in this fantastic version of Nantes, recorded in the streets of Paris: