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BEIRUT

Gallipoli, Beirut’s fifth album, started life when Zach Condon returned to his old Farfisa organ, the same one he used to write his first two albums, Gulag Orkestar (2006) and The Flying Club Cup (2007). After stints writing and recording in both New York and Berlin, with time for Zach to recover from a broken arm factored in, band plus producer Gabe Wax (Speedy Ortiz, Soccer Mommy, Adrianne Lenker / Big Thief) headed to Puglia in Italy to finish the album.

With the remote rural setting “the right amount of isolated”, an intense month of 12 to 16-hour days in the studio with day trips around the coastline followed. Inspired by the surroundings, Gallipoli is unintentionally more visceral than Beirut’s more recent albums, alive with an energy that is further enhanced by every creak and groan of their instruments, every detuned note, and all amp buzz and technical malfunction being left in the cracks of the songs.

STAFF COMMENTS

Barry says: There's always been something mesmerising about Beirut, their exotic choice of rhythms and instrumentation coalescing with their minimal songwriting style and almost ethereal vocal projection. You'll be delighted to know that this one is every bit the excellent follow-up to 2015's 'No No No', and (thankfully) a little longer. Superb stuff.

It’s December 2013, and Zach Condon is in an Australian hospital. He’s at the tail end of a 3-year non-stop world tour, suffering from health problems brought on by severe exhaustion, fighting through a messy divorce, and is trying in vain to escape the reality that’s dismantling around him and within him. From the hospital, he makes the difficult decision to cancel the rest of the tour. “I had completely broken down and my body was making me pay for it,” Condon recalls from his east Williamsburg home. Ironically, the artist so widely recognised for breaking geographical boundaries was being undone halfway around the world. Pensively, Condon concludes, “For the first time in my life, I was facing extreme self doubt. I had hit rock bottom.”

Met with enormous success at age 19, Condon’s career up to that point had been relatively smooth sailing. But now post Australia he finds himself back at home in Brooklyn and unable to write songs. It was 2014, and at age 28 he found himself completely lost. “I couldn’t fathom how one day I was capable of it and one day I wasn’t,” Condon remarks. The darkness clouding his physical and mental health had fully infected his creative and artistic abilities.

But this darkness contained a spark of light: he had fallen in love with a woman who inspired him to turn it around. Condon recalls, “having a positive presence like her both provides a healthy guiding force and shines a light on all the negative things in your life. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now without her.” The two retreated to Turkey Summer of 2014, which proved to be the ultimate keystone in his personal renewal. It has since become their second home, providing perspective in both geographical and political landscapes. He was taken in and cared for by her family there for months (she is Turkish), and given a home base to build around, all during the summer of the Gezi Park riots.

Upon returning, still not fully himself, Condon would find himself uncertain, this time in the studio. “I would turn my phone off and be holed up in my rehearsal space alone for days at a time,” says Condon, “and come out with nothing.” He would compose and discard entire albums’ worth of material. For Condon, the songs needed to be born from melody, and if the melodies weren’t coming, the songs would never transpire.

So, with his back against the proverbial wall, Condon began a new approach, starting from scratch in Fall 2014 with nothing but an open mind and the musical camaraderie of bandmates Paul Collins (bass) and Nick Petree (drums). For two full months they hammered away daily, creating the foundations for what would evolve into No No No (as well as countless songs that would carpet the cutting room floor).

With winter approaching, he booked two weeks at a studio that, by sheer chance and unbeknownst to him, was located a few blocks from his home. This proximity would prove crucial, as the two weeks of recording turned out to overlap with some of the worst winter weather in NYC history – it was one of the coldest and snowiest on record – a fitting climax to the events of the past four years.

With his band by his side, No No No suddenly began to take shape, creating an exponentially productive excitement. Those two weeks in the studio, with blizzard after blizzard raging outside, resulted in Condon’s most vibrant and spirited record to date. On past records, Condon composed mostly on his own, electronically, building on sounds and arrangements with ProTools. This time around, the songs were constructed live, in the moment, by the band, and are more concert-ready than ever as a result. The band was significantly stripped down: guitar, piano, bass, and drums formed the bulk of the arrangements as opposed to the more obscure instruments for which he was initially known. No No No opens with a sort of tribal drum beat, quickly giving way to a more western/modern snare sound and drum machine – a subtle wink at Beirut’s own musical transformation.

There’s a caffeinated exuberance throughout the entirety of the record. The opening songs are particularly upbeat and awake, reflective of Condon’s newfound clarity, so much so in fact, that the fifth song, the instrumental breather ‘As Needed’ is exactly that – a necessary intermission. The second half picks up where it left off, with effervescent percussion across pop songs, often led by bubbly piano lines that showcase Condon’s development as a pianist.

If the darkest hour is right before the dawn, Condon’s dawn is the brightest point in his still-young career. He’s found his true artistic identity as a songwriter – one that greatly abandons many of the formulas for which he was first known. The songwriter within Condon has always been there, albeit sonically veiled on past records. It’s never been presented so prominently, and finds Beirut on its most stable and convincing footing yet.

Following 2006's astonishing debut "Gulag Orkestar", Zach Condon AKA Beirut returns with "Flying Club Cup". In between the two albums, he has been living in Paris immersing himself in France's culture, fashion, history and music, in much the same way as he absorbed Balkan culture for his debut album. Condon's musical gaze has now looked to the likes of Jacques Brel and Francois Hardy for inspiration, and "Flying Club Cup" is another sweeping and triumphant European folk album that combines these new ideas with elements of his previous work too. Where as "Gulag Orkestar" was mainly a solo effort, for this album Condon has acted as a band leader putting together a core group of eight musicians and together they've managed to recreate his cultural borderless vision with this expansive and enthralling album.

Orchestrated folk-pop for fans of Sufjan Stevens, Calexico, Arcade Fire, the Magnetic Fields, Klezmer, Neutral Milk Hotel, and the Boban Markovic Orchestra. There are no guitars on this album; instead, horns, violins, cellos, ukeleles, mandolins, glockenspiel, drums, tambourines, congas, organs, pianos, clarinets and accordions all build and break around Zach Condon's deep voiced crooner vocals, swaying to the Eastern European beats like a drunken 12 piece carnival band. Guests include Jeremy Barnes (Neutral Milk Hotel) and Heather Trost (A Hawk And A Hacksaw). "Gulag Orkestar" is a glorious sweep of music, striking in its emotional content and stunning in its scope.

STAFF COMMENTS

Darryl says: Zach Condon's epic debut album, sounding like the best drunken Eastern European party ever. Perfect for swaying along to after one too many Summer ales!!!

FORMAT INFORMATION

2xCD Info: UK version on 4AD now with a bonus disc, "The Lon Gisland" EP.


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