October 18, 2007

Record Review: Beirut 2/3

Print More

I will have to admit: the first time I heard Beirut I was not that impressed. I listened to a few tracks off of their first full length release, Gulag Orkestar, and did not quite understand what all the hype was about. Fairly recently, however, I was introduced to their EP, Lon Gisland, and quickly fell in love with their uniquely eclectic sound. “Elephant Gun” is by far one of the best songs I’ve heard since Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Two Headed Boy” (which is rather ironic seeing as how Gulag Orkestar featured the contributions of Jeremy Barnes, the drummer of NMH). Having this new impression thrust upon me, I decided that it was time to reconsider my initial opinion of Beirut.
With the release of their second full length album, The Flying Club Cup, I am now resolute in the belief that Beirut is not only a band with a few good songs; rather, it is a band that has the brass and talent to back up an ever-developing sound. Hopefully, for those who — once like me — have not heard the brilliance in musicianship of Beirut, this album will be their chance.
One of the amazing things about Beirut is that they have the uncanny ability to transport you beyond your present state, like an anachronism that doesn’t feel quite so out of place in the setting. This album is reminiscent of Paris circa the turn of the 20th century. Zach Condon (the main man behind Beirut) brings in everything from accordions to violins and the organ (as well as Beirut’s familiar use of the ukulele), contributing to the Parisian feeling. At the onset of The Flying Club Cup, songs like “A Sunday Smile” and “Cliquot” express an ephemeral (but vivid) sensation of being at Montmartre amongst the outcasts and bohemians, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the bearded lady or latest showing at the Moulin Rouge. Slowly, as the album carries on, you encounter songs like “Forks and Knives (La Fête)”, where it almost feels like Beirut has transported you uptown to the riches of the Boulevard de Champs-Élysées.
It is not surprising that Zach Condon brought this sort of element to the new album, seeing as how his previous album and EPs were inspired by his wanderings and explorations about Eastern Europe. The theme of The Flying Club Cup was inspired in large part by a photograph Condon saw of the World Fair in Paris at the onset of the 20th century. He conveys this sentiment extraordinarily well in his songs; not only because of the French titles of many of the songs but also the use of musical arrangements similar in sound to those in Paris at that time.
Zach Condon’s voice resonates throughout the album as he takes you beyond the realm of your present physical state to places he has once been, painting a picture that goes beyond his words and traverses the melodies of his songs. Overall the album is incredibly unique and displays great musicianship; however, it definitely does not compare, at least for me, to their Lon Gisland EP or the phenomenon that is “Elephant Gun” for that matter. “Nantes” the second song of The Flying Club Cup, is sweet and infectious; and the title track of the album is also beautifully uplifting. So, to some extent, I now understand why Beirut is revered so highly and why people should give them a thorough listen; but, there are some things about Beirut that are still a mystery to me. Hopefully, someday, someone will explicate the whole conundrum, and then my love for “Elephant Gun” will transcend all of Beirut’s work.