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The Gulag Orkestar

Beirut

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iTunes Review

Zach Condon, the twenty year-old songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind Beirut, voice steeped in harsh kvass and Prima tobacco, delivers a highly idealized take on Eastern European musical culture over a theatrical musical backing. Cracked brass, wailing violins and distressed accordions, it all sounds like the soundtrack to one of Emir Kusturica’s cinematic fever dreams. Still, Condon’s unapologetically ersatz brand of gypsy folk does not deserve the ire of musical purists. Far from being a po-faced ethnomusicologist, Condon is a musical fantasist of the highest order who maniacally attacks gypsy music with an eye to sublimity over authenticity. The exotic musical forgeries of Tom Waits and David Byrne are his true touchstones. Yet for all of its borrowed gypsy attire, Gulag Orkestar’s star struck romanticism hints that not all of Condon’s influences hail from the far side of the iron curtain. “Postcards From Italy” stumbles skyward on a shambolic chord progression borrowed from Bowie’s “Man Who Sold The World”, while “The Scenic World” is an exercise in unabashed Stephin Merritt worship. With Gulag Orkestar Zach Condon has charted a fantastical musical landscape where Gypsy bards and Morrissey acolytes meet to compare compositions.

Customer Reviews

One of 2006's best albums

The Neutral Milk Hotel album In the Airplane Over The Sea is one of the all-time classics of intelligent anti-rock, and that band never followed it up. NMH's Jeremy Barnes, however, has a heavy hand in this album by 19-year old Brooklyn boy Zach Gordon, and it is as inventive as they come. Comparisons to Airplane are inevitable, but that's not a bad thing. Other comparisons include Andrew Bird, Tom Waits, Rufus Wainwright, Sufjan Stevens and, just possibly, Russian folk music (as suggested by the title). This is a work of rare genius, with utterly compelling rock mixed through a few centuries' worth of music. It rewards from the first listen, but is more habit-forming than nicotine. There is no pigeonhole that would do this album justice, such is its level of creativity and surprise. No fan of Waits or Sufjan could resist this album, but it should have a place on every right-thinking listener's shelf. Whisper it, but it may even be better than Neutral Milk Hotel's album...

Whew!

It's hard to take in everything on this album in a few listens, but it's beautiful and worth persevering with. Don't be put off by the initial feeling that you have accidentally purchased an album of Hungarian funeral marches - there's a lot more here. This young whippersnapper has managed to use the sounds of Eastern Europe to create a fantastic backdrop to romantic, heartfelt songs of love and heartbreak. Yes, it's a shameless case of purloining the relatively unexplored music of an area we don't think of as musically relevant but it works so well that we can overlook the possibly unsound ethics of musical tourism. I won't be buying the traditional sounds of the ex-Soviet satellites, but I'll think about them as I allow myself to drown in the waves of gorgeous sounds on this album. Well done, that lad.

Soul with sole

There's something raw and hob-nailed about Beirut. The music hangs together in a crude, unshaven way that is so lacking in today's over-produced, hype-encrusted catalogue. There is no category in which to place this album and that's one of the reasons I love it. Play it in the dark and drink excessive amounts of beer with vodka chasers for full effect.

Biography

Formed: 2006 in Brooklyn, NY

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

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