Beirut: Gulag Orkestar

Beirut
Gulag Orkestar
Ba Da Bing!

Give Zach Condon this: He doesn't pretend that he isn't a tourist. The 20-year-old Brooklynite, who put together his debut as Beirut while living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, even titled one of the songs "Postcards from Italy"—not exactly a sign of an attempt to go native. This distance serves him well. Beirut is one of the cannier hybrids of the past few years, wedding Condon's indie drawl (reference points: Rufus Wainwright, Neutral Milk Hotel) to Eastern European instrumentation (reference points: Bulgarian wedding bands, Balkan Gypsy music) and letting the sparks pop and decay languidly, just like his horn parts.

To my ear, the key of Gulag Orkestar is "Scenic World," in large part because it isn't that much like the other songs on the album. Instead, it's distinctively new wavy—but for the refrain's frayed trumpets, you could mistake it for an outtake from the Electric Dreams soundtrack. That's the exception for a reason, though: Condon borrows his sound-world with care. And more often than you'd expect, as when the horns hit the bridge on "Italy" or stagger the opening fanfare of "Bratislava," he hammers his own stake in the music. Condon is receiving more ink for sounding like something ages old rather than mere decades, but it's hard not to get the feeling that he's got even better work ahead of him—even if it doesn't get as much notice as this.

 
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