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You would be forgiven for thinking that the man behind Beirut had lived a life of toil, speckled with a few grains of love and hope here and there. You would also be forgiven for thinking that such a man was of middle age, living somwhere Balkan-like on a farm, meeting regularly with other like minded folks in a run down bar to produce the wonderful Balkan orchestral sounds found on Gulag Orkestar.
The truth is that Beirut essentially is a 21 year old American by the name of Zach Condon. Originally a solo project, Zach and his touring band of gypsy-like musicians have come up with a sound so alien to the kind of music you think he should be making is beyond comprehension. His travels around the world after leaving home as a young teenager have produced this rich tapestry of sounds.
Gulag Orkestar is full of a wonderful blend of piano, horns, accordians, violins and most of all, Zach Condons voice. He sounds like a man twice his age and this makes for compelling listening.
Postcards From Italy is a beautiful love song and you cannot fail to conjure up the images of which he sings. ('She will marry me outside, with the willow trees and play the songs we made'). Carousels is as uplifting as its title suggests. And on Rhineland (Heartland) Zach sounds as pariotic to the fictional country you imagine him being from as if he were singing the national anthem of his native America.
Gulag Orkestar was like nothing I had ever heard the first time I played it and I hope this review might inspire some others to have a listen too.
Gulag Orkestar is Beirut's debut album and was released in 2006 by Ba Da Bing. Beirut despite sounding like several band members is the sole work of Zach Condon. Beirut are often bracketed in to the New York Balkan scene which tends to include the likes of Firewater, Gogol Bordello, Tamir Muskat and Devotchka.
I recently did a review of Devotchka's album A Mad and Faithful Telling, unfortunately I'm going to give Beirut a similar description in that the vocalist sounds an awful lot like the droaning whingeing Thom Yorke, only here the artist faces much more criticism as I think to myself "Shut up you moaning sod" when I hear it.
Whilst the orchestra sound is quite impressive to think it is all done by one artist, it lacks any upbeat sections and tends to focus on the depressive tunes, when mixed with his annoying voice this just comes across as a complete let down - although I'm aware some people are fans of it. I just think it's far too depressive. Listening to this in a gulag would definitely send you over the edge!
1. "The Gulag Orkestar" - 4:38
2. "Prenzlauerberg" - 3:46
3. "Brandenburg" - 3:38
4. "Postcards from Italy" - 4:17
5. "Mount Wroclai (Idle Days)" - 3:15
6. "Rhineland (Heartland)" - 3:58
7. "Scenic World" - 2:08
8. "Bratislava" - 3:17
9. "The Bunker" - 3:13
10. "The Canals of Our City" - 2:21
11. "After the Curtain" - 2:54
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Gulag Orkestar
4 Postcards From Italy
5 Mount Wroclai (Idle Days)
6 Rhineland (Heartland)
7 Scenic World
10 Canals Of Our City
11 After The Curtain
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 Elephant Gun
2 My Family's Role In The World Revolution
3 Scenic World
4 Long Island Sound