Monday, May 15, 2006

Beirut - Gulag Orkestar

Beirut, aka Zach Condon, plays music that is not of this world....well at least not of this country. Accordions, ukuleles, violins, and the stomp inducing percussion carry this unique album. Zach is not from Russia, Germany, or Albania, he's not even from New York, yet the songs that he has constructed include all of these cultures. Oh, and did I mention that he is only 19 years old! Yeah, that's right he is younger than me and for some reason that really makes the album that much better.

Beirut has garnered enough "blog/internet" hype to kill a small horse. I don't know how he got this much attention at such an early stage in his career but I can honestly say that it is well deserved. The hype may have happened because the music is original and not what you will hear on your average indie radio station. He is not the first person to create this "new" genre of music; Devotchka and A Hawk and a Hacksaw have been making worldly music for years, but Beirut may be the band that takes this type of music to the top, so to speak. In fact, A Hawk and a Hacksaw play on Gulag providing accordions, violins, and the driving percussion.

The fact is that the songs are simple yet they do not sound novice or boring. Beirut has taken a traditional form of music and combined it with just enough contemporary elements to make it appealing to a Decemberists listener. This is a new trend that I am seeing in the music that is coming out today. Bands are taking old music that most people are not familiar with or don't like and making it their own. They are not blatantly copying a specific band or movement. They are however recognizing music that has been forgotten or never saw its time in the spotlight and capitalizing on the discovery.

And his voice; upon one listen it is clear that Zach is truly gifted and his vocals could front any type of band. But the voice was made for Beirut, soaring subtle singing contribute to the dramatics that are essential to this genre of music. 'The Canals of Our City' brings Condon's voice to the front and gives that instrument the credit that it deserves. Often compared to Rufus Wainwright, Beirut's Gulag Orkestar is the perfect example of a promising band. It may not be the best album of 2006 but it will be on numerous year end lists due to the potential of Beirut and its boundary defying ideas.

'Postcards from Italy' is the single that will take this album places. The song makes it hard to stay still and you will find yourself marching in place, maybe even with a slight head sway. The trumpets will stay in your head throughout your workday and you will hum the chorus even though you have no idea what he is saying. The slow dirge-like 'Rhineland (Homeland)' sounds like an entire orchestra crammed into a small room with its layered voices and powerful trumpet line. But there is no orchestra, only the musical ideas and individual performances of Condon pieced together to create emotion.

There is so much unoriginal music out there today (Yes, I'm talking about the Arctic Monkeys and anyone that they know) so it is so refreshing to listen to something that goes off the path just enough to get people's attention. Many people will listen to Gulag just because it is different. It is such a simple concept, making original music, unfortunately only a handful of artists choose to take such a gamble.



Blogger jessica said...

Hey! I like your blog. You're a good writer. I've been inspired by you, and have started a blog for Guatemala. Check it out if you're interested:

11:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home