September 14, 2006

Beirut's Gulag Orkestar

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On Beirut’s debut album, Gulag Orkestar, the trumpets rise like smoke blown from a hookah that spins me away to a desert in the Middle East. Heavy rhythms drone beneath the hypnotic vocals of Zach Condon, a wolf howling at the moon whose one man band dubbed Beirut sounds more like 100 stoned Lebanese gypsies on parade than a 20-year-old New Mexican – and it just so happens to be also brilliant!
This album is quilted with intricate orchestrations of percussion. But it’s a patchwork – Condon surprises us with a change of pace on the electric and intimate “Scenic World.” The entire album seems to focus on toil and hardship – it reminds me of what it would sound like to travel through the desert for 40 years. On “Rhineland (Heartland)” however, the prominence of the light-hearted ukulele gives me hope of an oasis up ahead, as Condon wails, “Life is all right!”