Little Beirut -Fear of Heaven
Record Label: None
Release Date: June 27, 2010
“One of the things I tell people when I give them the album is to expect it to be a pretty big fat pop record, because that’s something that stands out here,” says (singer Hamilton) Sims. “We’re not avant garde, we’re not trying to weird you out.”
You perk up and pay attention when you read a press quote like that, because it’s a crystal clear indication of what you’re about to hear: a band steeped in self-confidence drawing power from who they already are, rather than who they wish they were. That’s Portland, OR’s Little Beirut on Fear of Heaven, an astral album stuffed with shoegaze tones, hypnotic bass lines, and of course, lots and lots of unabashed pop. But don’t check out if the “pop” label turns you off. They haven’t allowed it to entrench them in radio pop protocol – don’t come in expecting Taylor Swift. If anything, their sound still leans heavily towards “indie” and “experimental” ideals. But there’s a refreshing accessibility to it that sets it far apart from the acts trying too hard to innovate only to fail. Little Beirut sounds hip without ever having to resort to gimmicks.
You could say Fear of Heaven is reminiscent of New York City’s Nightmare of You at times, because they both seem to like heart-piercing 80’s melodies (for the former, see closer “Crooked Crown”). But whereas Nightmare of You sometimes comes off as awkward and pretentious in the lyrics department, Little Beirut have no trouble expressing themselves eloquently. They get high-flown in “Cigarette Girls” as they muse “I pinned the corsage through the chiffon, I could see through the dress she had on, she could tie a cherry knot with the tip of her tongue,” and transparently angsty in “Apology to My Heart” (“Let the floodgates out, go ahead and cry… Ashley, Adrienne, Kate and Clementine left while we were turning a blind eye”) without much difficulty.
The highlight track, however, is probably the mesmerizing “True Swords.” It introduces itself with jangly guitar strums (think The Smiths) before breaking into a groovy bass line that will have you humming for months. But then the vocals come in and things turn dark. “And she cries all night over what you said, and then it’s off to sleep and off with your head!” the song moans, “Are you lining up their skulls? Can you satisfy your taste for blood?” It’s all done over a sweet pop sheen, too, which makes it all the more eerie. Still, the best part about it is that it’s a reminder that sometimes, the most expressive music is unadulterated – no swirling effects, no auto-tune, no jagged noisy riffs that are weird for the sake of being weird. Sometimes, all you need is some wholesome pop.