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Gulag Orkestar

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Album Review

The best album to come out of Albuquerque since the Shins decamped for the Pacific Northwest, the debut album by Beirut (aka New Mexico-born 19-year-old singer/songwriter Zach Condon) bears an immediate resemblance both to Denver's DeVotchKa and the current passions of the Athens, GA, crowd formerly associated with the Elephant 6 stable. Like DeVotchKa, Condon is heavily influenced by Eastern European folk music and, to a lesser extent, the mariachi trumpets and Latin rhythms of the desert Southwest: the songs on Gulag Orkestar are lousy with mandolins and similarly plinky members of the string instrument family, accordions, horns, and hand percussion clearly played with dramatic in-studio arm flourishes. But like the Athens folks (some of whom appear here in a supporting role, most notably A Hawk and a Hacksaw's Jeremy Barnes), Condon isn't interested in mere approximations of traditional forms. Condon and friends use the folk instruments primarily as really cool-sounding textures, exotic backdrops for Condon's melodic indie folk tunes and impressionistic lyrics. The lyrics, it must be said, are the album's most obvious flaw, clearly the work of a young, romantically inclined teen who has never been to Europe but has seen a lot of foreign art films about, like, Gypsies 'n' stuff. Ignore the clunky lyrics — easy enough to do since Condon is an unexpectedly appealing singer with a rich, mellifluous voice that, no kidding, recalls the great bel canto crooners of the pre-rock era (along with a little Nick Cave) — and Gulag Orkestar is an infinitely more appealing album.

Customer Reviews

A pleasant surprise for 2006

I heard this album for the first time while listening to the college radio station KSCR. I can’t remember which song first caught me but the mix of instruments and Roma inspired feel of the music was so moving that I had to write down the artist name. When I checked out the rest of the album, I was even more impressed. Tracks like Scenic World are uplifting and poppy while others, such as The Gulag Orkestar and Prenzlauerberg are more soulful and with emphasized heavier marching beats. All the music is filled with sounds of instruments like the accordion, tambourine, piano, horn, cello, violin – among others! I would definitely recommend buying this album!

Brilliant.

The mix of Eastern European melodies, mandolins and haunting sounds will invade your car, your iPod and fill the canals of your ears with delicious melodies. Beirut's sound inspires thoughts of smokey cafes post USSR, dingy rivers decorated with historical sites and will also make you groove. Highly recommended.

in a trance

I just discovered Beirut with this album and am now going back to their previous ones and falling even more in love with this sound. Brilliant!

Biography

Formed: 2006 in New York, NY [Brooklyn]

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

One of 2006's most unexpected indie success stories, Beirut combines a wide variety of styles, from pre-rock/pop music and Eastern European Gypsy styles to the alternately plaintive and whimsical indie folk of the Decemberists to the lo-fi, homemade psychedelic experimentation of Neutral Milk Hotel. At the heart of this sonic hybrid was a teenager from Albuquerque, New Mexico, a fact that made Beirut's debut album, Gulag Orkestar, all the more surprising. Something of a musical prodigy, multi-instrumentalist...
Full bio