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Beirut

Combining gypsy folk music with lo-fi Spaghetti Western-meets-psychedelia, BEIRUT are the brainchild of Albuquerque, New Mexico-born multi-instrumentalist, Zach Condon. From the age of 16, the high school dropout travelled extensively throughout ethnic Europe (mainly the Balkans), where he learned many cultures and instruments in the process. Meeting up with likeminded A HAWK AND A HACKSAW members, Jeremy Barnes (ex-NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL) and Heather Trost, Condon spent time perfecting his debut album.
Through Barnes himself, GULAG ORKESTAR (2006) {*7}, found an outlet via New Jersey-based indie imprint Ba Da Bing, while youngster Zach took up residency in Brooklyn, New York. Like an old-timey 78 one would find in granddad’s attic, the music spun out something akin to a mariachi desert band at sunset in some romantic, black and white flick from the 50s. With exotic and picturesque titles such as `Bratislava’, `Rhineland’, `Brandenburg’, `Prenzlaurberg’ and `Mount Wroclai’, the listener was transported to lands one can only dream of setting foot in. Okay, there was the odd Bontempi-plod of non-folk dirge (`After The Curtain’ and `Scenic World’), but the melodious set was one large step for a 19 year-old.
An unexpected minor breakthrough, THE FLYING CLUB CUP {*8} bubbled under the US Top 100 for a week or so; the idea of his gypsy-meets-Tex-Mex dirges appealing to a new generation of World-music folk buffs was off the radar. But maybe his melodious merry-go-round tunes had strength in their passion and spirit; Owen Pallett of FINAL FANTASY was Zach’s collaborative partner on `Cliquot’. Going one better on the partly-pseudonymous double-EP/mini-album, MARCH OF THE ZAPOTEC/HOLLAND (2009) {*7} – the first for Pompeii Records – was an unusual artefact, shared as it was with his Realpeople project (aka The Jimenez Band, a 19-piece brass band from Oaxaca in Mexico); the BEIRUT disc had Zach turning folk-electro – think 80s NEW ORDER or ASSOCIATES.
Mainly recorded in the bleak mid-winter of upstate New York rather than surrounded by desert cacti, THE RIP TIDE (2011) {*7} featured the usual array of exotic indie musicians to complement Condon: since the 2007 they’d been Perrin Cloutier (accordion, cello), Kelly Pratt (euphonium, flugelhorn, trumpet), Nick Petree (percussion) and Paul Collins (bouzouki), while the addition of Ben Lanz (trombone, tuba) had set the tone. Opening with `A Candle’s Fire’ (featuring SHARON VAN ETTEN), the short ‘n’ sweet BEIRUT set was spirited throughout, giving more than a whiff of Mexican air underlined by ornate musicianship, played as if serenading romantic couples outside a Mediterranean café. Toasting their trip into the Top 100 again (UK Top 50), highlights included `East Harlem’ (a failed single), `Santa Fe’ and closer `Port Of Call’. Condon would return the complement to VAN ETTEN by appearing on her 2012 set, `Tramp’, while the musician/singer was invited into works by BLONDIE and The NEW PORNOGRAPHERS.
Unsurprisingly, major independent 4 a.d. came calling, but with this advantage came sorrow and heartache for Condon, who split from his wife in the process. Showing little signs of distress, album four NO NO NO (2015) {*7} had moments of whimsy in its half-hour of play-time. Condon never seemed to extend his policy of short-ish sets, leaving others to ponder if quality exceeded sparse quantity. The bongo-infused `Gibraltar’, the romantic `August Holland’ and the celestial `Perth’ sparkled and faded into an oasis of welcoming weekend rituals and, who really knows if Condon will follow in the folk-y footsteps of ANDREW BIRD, The DECEMBERISTS, et al.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Sep2015

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