Since its release in May of 2006, Beirut's internationally celebrated Gulag Orkestar album has soundscanned more than 45,000 copies, and the band has done a tsunami of interviews, photoshoots and features (including NY Times, Spin, Pitchfork, Urb, and Village Voice). This great fervor developed around an album conceived and constructed in a teenager's New Mexico bedroom. Six months of recording has led to The Flying Club Cup, an homage to France's culture, fashion, history and music. Two years ago, Zach Condon immersed himself in Balkan folk, absorbed sounds, scales, styles, and the sonic joys of a skeletally structured, cacophonic ensemble - and moved west. Soaking up the likes of Francois Hardy, Charles Aznavour, and, most notably, Jacques Brel (a huge influence on both Scott Walker and Mark E. Smith), Condon has been articulating his conversational French. Most of the album was created at a nondescript Albuquerque office space, AKA. A Hawk and a Hacksaw's practice room; Heather Trost plays violin and viola on three songs. Engineering and production assistance came from Griffin Rodriguez (A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Man Man). He helped separate the many instrumentalists involved in recording, as opposed to Gulag's largely solo flight. The orkestar, which has solidified into a core group of eight members, has grand plans for replicating the album live, and is now an integral part of Beirut's identity. Additional recording was done with Owen Pallet (Final Fantasy) at the Masonic church studio owned by The Arcade Fire. Within the spectacle and intimacy of The Flying Club Cup, you can hear a love letter to the joie de vivre that defines our existence. Listen closer, and you also hear the emergence of a singular musical talent - Mr. Zachary F. Condon, at present living in Paris - unbounded by cultural borders and by where his heart travels.
Beirut's second LP purportedly takes inspiration from French chanson
of yesteryear (as opposed to the Balkan folk of yesteryear). Bandleader Zach Condon has found a new home in Paris, and a new muse as well, quickly absorbing fodder from the likes of Francois Hardy or Jacques Brel. The music remains quite recognizably Beirut--in all its oom-pa glory--but the production value is stepped up a notch. It's through the dense arrangements that it reaches new heights, this without question being the fullest offering yet. The band appeared on Owen Pallet's (Final Fantasy/Arcade Fire) new album in exchange for the use of Arcade Fire's Masonic church studio, along with the exotic pile of instruments within. Pallet ended up contributing several string arrangements and the band made full use of the studio. The result is a truly orchestral take on the simpler gypsy stomp of Gulag Orkestar
or the straight-up eight-piece live band of the Lon Gisland
EP. Opener "Nantes" features a perfectly broken organ and introduces the wealth of percussion that continues throughout the album, as well as some samples of French TV or radio (the most explicit Franco-features are these sampled tidbits). Waltzing glockenspiels give way to a celebratory, raucous chorus on "La Banlieu." "Un Dernier Verre" features a skittering, jazzy piano bit (in 3/4 time, natch). The Flying Club Cup lacks the immediate hits that made Gulag Orkestar
explode (like "Postcards from Italy" or "Mount Wroclai"). It works as an album rather than just a collection of songs. It's a more pensive presentation--dare I say it: more mature. Beirut remains mind-boggling work for a 21-year-old, and it's exciting to watch Condon's musical palette expand as he gathers the life experience to match his voice. --Jason Pace