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Gulag Orkestar

4.3 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Audio CD, May 9, 2006
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

While it may sound like an entire Balkan gypsy orchestra playing modern songs as mournful ballads and upbeat marches, Beirut s first album, Gulag Orkestar, is actually the work of 19-year-old Albuquerque native Zach Condon, with an assist from Jeremy Barnes (Neutral Milk Hotel, A Hawk and a Hacksaw). There are no guitars on this album; instead, horns, violins, cellos, ukuleles, mandolins, glockenspiel, drums, tambourines, congas, organs, pianos, clarinets and accordions all build and break around Condon s deep-voiced crooner vocals, swaying to the Eastern European beats like a drunken twelve-member carnival band. Though young, Condon has already recorded several albums of astonishing diversity. He recorded under the name Real People when he was fifteen, crafting an electronic record inspired by his love of the Magnetic Fields. At sixteen, he recorded an entire doo-wop album that sounds a bit like like Frankie and the Teenagers. Although he was a straight-A student, in 2002 Condon dropped out of school to travel Europe, cavorting and partying with the locals wherever he went. During one of these evenings that he was first exposed to Balkan gypsy music, blasting from an upstairs apartment. Condon went to investigate, and stayed up all night with a Serbian artist, going through albums country by country, note for note. Gulag Orkestar is the direct result of what he learned that night. This past winter, Condon headed to Sea Side Studios in Brooklyn s Park Slope where, along with Barnes and A Hawk and a Hacksaw s Heather Trost, he added percussion and violin overdubs to his original compositions. The resulting record sounds like a Neutral Milk Hotel from behind the iron curtain (for those playing along at home, look into the Boban Markovic Orchestra). Gulag Orkestar is a glorious sweep of music, striking in its emotional content and stunning in its scope.


...a feat because it is a folky record that is so much fun. -- Said The Gramophone, April 20, 2006

...awe-inspiring, wonderous, almost intangible composition of raw talent, emotion, and complexity, reminding us why we listen to music.. -- I Guess I'm Floating, May 3, 2006

This a genius, who...has created one of the most diverse and creative albums of 2006 thus far. -- Skatterbrain, May 2, 2006

stunning spring-to-summer gypsy-cum-klezmer pop...beautiful and disarming -- Pitchfork, May 4, 2006
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (May 9, 2006)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Ba Da Bing
  • ASIN: B000F5GO0A
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,450 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
Largely the work of an ambitious youngster named Zach Condon, Gulag Orkestar is an indie rock album filtered through the mind of a teenager who dropped out of high school to travel across Europe and soak in as much culture and music as possible. The result is something that sounds a bit like the Microphones crossed with Neutral Milk Hotel. It might be the only rock album you hear that doesn't contain any guitars, and it conveys an emotional and worldly power of the likes I've not heard in some time.

Largely inspired by Balkan folk music, the album moves through mournful ballads and more upbeat tracks (that sound more like the work of a 10-plus member ensemble) with ease, layering horns, stringed instruments, ukeleles, mandolins, glockenspiel, drum, organs, piano, and other percussion under the soulful vocals of Condon himself, who has a similar range and style as Andrew Bird. The disc opens with the album-titled track of "The Gulag Orkestar," and after some warbling horns and cascading piano, the track turns into a shuffling march that finds Condon soaring over the top of it all with his rich croon.

The album really hits stride with the gorgeous "Bandenburg," which finds deft mandolins playing out over heaving drums and percussion as accordions wheeze and the track builds gracefully with delightful horn sections and layered vocals. "Postcards From Italy" follows, and it may very well be the best track on the disc, moving along with a playful opening section that mixes shuffling mandolin, piano and horns before shifting halfway through to a more delicate (and reflective) section that completely tugs at the heartstrings before bursting into a celebratory ending that's absolutely stunning.
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Format: Audio CD
Finding out about Beirut was one of the best things to happen to me (musically) in 2007. When I first heard their EP "Lon Gisland", I quickly proceeded to dig back in the past works by this fascinating act.

Beirut blends a lo-fi sound not unlike a group of East European gipsies with a folk feel like Sufjan Stevens with leader Zach Condon's voice coming across much like David Byrne. The result is an exquisite and upbeat album that makes your heart pound with excitement making you want to jump, clap and laugh, with "Postcards From Italy" being one of the highlights.

Thinking that this was Beirut's debut album just blows me away. If you like it, by all means pick up "Lon Gisland".
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Format: Audio CD
To be honest, when I think of Elephant 6 bands I don't usually think of Balkan folk music. But with the release of Beirut's "Gulag Orkestar," I may have to revise my thinking.

This new band consists of teenage musician Zach Condon, along with people from Neutral Milk Hotel and A Hawk and a Hacksaw, making bittersweet folkpop and danceable marches. Imagine a band of slightly drunk gypsies on parade, and you'll have the general idea of how it sounds.

It opens slow, with a gentle piano and blaring horns. The title track meanders in circles and finally dies away... only to be reborn as a swaying march. Halfway through, Condon joins in with some mournful wails and equally mournful singing. That turns around in "Prenzluerberg," where the singing is just as melancholy, but the music is a cheerier march.

From there on, the trio tries out those styles and everything in between -- rattly folk with tambourines and horns, danceable folkpop, and tinkly klezmer music. Yes, tinkly klezmer. They get downright happy in "Scenic World," a colorful glockenspiel song that is just barely grounded by some quick violins.

After that, "Gulah Orkestar" is pretty upbeat, with a string of swaying marches and upbeat folk acoustics. The album's finale is a bit of a head-scratcher, though. "After the Curtain" is a relatively bare-bones song with Condon singing over applause and a dancing glockenspiel. I don't know how to fit that one in.

Basically this album is what happens when an American teenager drops out and crosses Eastern Europe, soaking up the folk music as he goes.

And it's a good thing Condon's musical talents are being backed by experienced musicians, so we can get a bittersweet, atmospheric taste of whatever he heard there.
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Format: Audio CD
This is definitely one of the most influential albums i've heard recently and maybe ever. It combines a bit of Balkan sounds, a bit of Tiersen (yes you've definitely heard of him!) and a bit (just a little bit) of indie and maybe post rock - at least, this is what my ears tell me :).

The most interesting thing maybe, is that the whole album is mostly the work of a single person (Zach Condon) whose age is about 20. When i first listened the album i thought that this was composed either from a Balkan band / orchestra or from some mature musicians. Well, i was wrong! Most of the recordings were made by him in his own house! This is his third personal album but the first under the "Beirut" name.

It is difficult to say which tracks are worthing from this album since most of them do! Few exceptions exist of course, but they are the exceptions and not the rule ;)

So, five stars from me and highly suggested to anyone who's looking for something fresh, inspiring and different. Give it a try and you won't be disappointed
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