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East European-tinged music that will leave you Hungary for more,
This review is from: Gulag Orkestar / Lon Gisland EP (Audio CD)
Beirut, as well as being a geo-political hotspot, is the name adopted by the prodigiously-talented Zach Condon for his musical ensemble.
Condon is a 20-year-old stripling from New Mexico who is bizarrely, but encouragingly, obsessed with traditional East European music. Addled by gypsy Romanticism (to the extent that the sleeve notes tell us that the front and back photos were "found in a library in Leipzig torn out of a book") he has produced a remarkable album.
This intoxicating Balkan stew was mostly recorded in his Albuquerque bedroom. Multi-instrumentalist Condon plays trumpet, ukulele, piano, accordion, mandolin and percussion in addition to providing the marvellously plaintive vocals. He's backed by a superb band of Romany-influenced musicians.
This is Condon's third album (following the eclectic pairing of an electronica debut and a doo-wop sophomore effort) and this brisk stroll into the uncharted territory of Balkania comes from so far out of left field it could seem to be wilfully obscurist.
It's all the better for it. The opening track (The Gulag Orkestar) with its lamenting trumpets and discordant piano sounds like an anthem for the cancer-stricken and it's followed by a succession of supremely emotive pieces. It isn't all Slavic melancholia by any means though; much of the slightly ramshackle music is positively beautiful.
Condon is definitely one to keep under close observation. It's tremendously impressive that rather than being moody, cladding himself in black, listening to The Smiths and writing poetry in inclement weather his teenage miserabilism manifested itself in a superbly affecting piece of work that creates a soundscape of dissonant orotund swirls.
This was released earlier in the year in the US and has been receiving rave word-of-mouth reviews. It's now re-released with a five track EP tagged on as an extra. Entitled Lon Gisland E.P. (where Condon is now resident) this is a slightly more commercial variation with Condon's vocals more to the fore, thus losing a certain ethereal quality and sounding less like the signatories of the Brest-Litovsk treaty tumbling into damnation and singing about it. You won't hear as good an album all year. It's an essential purchase.