Zach Condon is an interesting dude. He dropped out of high school and left New Mexico for Europe at age 16. While hanging out in Paris he started listening to Balkan folk music and fell in love with it. He returned to New Mexico and enrolled in college, studying Portuguese and Photography. Then he recorded, in his bedroom, nearly by himself, an album heavily inspired by the Balkan music he heard in Paris. That album, Gulag Orkestar, earned rave reviews, and Beirut was born.
Listening to Gulag Orkestar it’s amazing that Condon recorded the vast majority of the parts (accordion, keyboards, saxophone, clarinet, mandolin, ukulele, horns, glockenspiel, and percussion) himself. It sounds like there’s a full band there. The kind of band you might hear performing in a town square in Prague. Yet while the music sounds like it could be performed by a band half the world away, it’s oddly, unquestionably American.
Since the release of Gulag Orkestar in 2006 Condon has assembled a semi-regular group of musicians to round out Beirut. With that group he recorded 2007’s followup, The Flying Club Cup, a musical continuation of the ideas and sound he started in Gulag Orkestar. In early March Beirut released their latest effort: a double EP called March of the Zapotec/Realpeople: Holland. The first half is Condon with The Jimenez Band, a 19-piece group from Oaxaca, Mexico. The second half is comprised of Condon’s electronica side.
Mournful brass gives way to ukulele, which yields to a tango. The music this malleable and atmospheric, sounding like the soundtrack to a movie that just hasn’t been made yet.
“Postcards from Italy” (from Gulag Orkestar)
Condon’s voice is a throwback to the crooners of the 40s and 50s, yet the unique music he’s singing over keeps him from sounding dated.
“Nantes”, on La Blogotheque
“Sunday Smile”, from The Flying Club Cup video series