I got hold of this last year when it first came out. At the time I listened to it and listened again and again..... I'll admit I wasn't really sure if this was very good or just utterly pretentious crap! I didn't get this with the first few listens - didn't get it at all. So I left it, unplayed for a few months. However, I did put it on my mp3 played, and whilst it was turned to random the other day, on came "Brandenburg". As I was "gloved up" at work I couldn't fast forward. But......remarkably this time it hit me! This IS good music!
I've listened to the whole of the album a few times over the past couple of days and yes, it is good all the way through.Saying that this won't be everyone's cup of tea - not by a long chalk! If you like your music to be daring, experimental, highly original and imbued with a deep melancholy then this might be for you. If you like music that you don't have to work at listening to then it is definitely not for you!
The whole album is a mix of Balkan-style folk, played with ukelele, mandolin, horns and percussion. Added to Condon's vocals which treble throughout, it's an odd but thoroughly moving piece of work. When I first heard it last year it sounded more like drunken mariachi than Balkan folk but I don't hear the mariachi band now I've listened again.
Standout tracks are "Brandenburg", the odd beer-hall style march "Prenzlauerburg", "Postcards from Italy", and the fabulously haunting "Rhineland".
"Gulag Orkestar" has been compared favourably to Neutral Milk Hotel's brilliant "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea". As it features Jeremy Barnes who also drummed with Neutral Milk Hotel, I guess these comparisons were inevitable. I personally don't think this is up there with "In the Aeroplane" but then nothing is! This is though a great album that stands out from anything else you're ever likely to hear. (10/10)