BEIRUT: THE GULAG ORKESTAR

9 December 2006

I have just been listening to the recently released “Gulag Orkestar” by Beirut.

I have listened through once and have dashed off the keys quickly for you all…

  1. The Gulag Orkestar (D minor);
  2. Prenzlauerberg (Eb minor)
  3. Brandenburg (D minor);
  4. Postcards from Italy (F maj);
  5. Mount Wroclai (Idle Days) (Bb min);
  6. Rhineland (Heartland) (F maj);
  7. Scenic World (D maj);
  8. Bratislava (A maj);
  9. The Bunker (C maj);
  10. The Canals of Our City (C maj);
  11. After the Curtain (D maj).

I hope that’s right.

It is a quirky album for sure, but strangely hypnotic too.  How best to describe this? It is a bit like lo-fi Divine Comedy mixed with Beck Hanson, and it must be said that Mr. Condon sounds rather similar to Stephen Merritt (Magnetic Fields).

Odd beats, lots of trumpet, almost out-of-tune honky pianos, and even ukuleles, yet it is almost Cuban at time, and somehow it is Eastern — Russian and Balkan as well — possibly with touches of Turk and Greek. It’s so odd.

It is the Rodchenko of music somehow.

What’s odder is that it’s the product of a US American teenager! My goodness! Zach Condon must really have studied Eastern European music to produce an album of glockenspiel and accordion, of tambourines and mandolins.

It’s been called Balkan crossover music!

What I like about it is that it is different, it tries to be different in a world of X-factor pop idols and pro formas. As a result, this guy may make polkas and klezmers cool – – and that’s a strange thought!

I think “The Canals of Our City” shows his vocal quality, But “Postcards from Italy” is probably the easiest to get into.  “Scenic World” is funny in that the riff is U2’s “With or Without You!”.

I must say that while I could listen to this and this sort of thing from time to time, it is not something I would need all day, every day!

For it’s evocative moods, it’s atmosphere, give it a listen or two just to clean out your ears from all that pop and rock, flip though some old photographs and return to the authentic and the homespun.

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One Response to “BEIRUT: THE GULAG ORKESTAR”


  1. […] I went to a concert to see St. Vincent last year, she was in support of Grizzly Bear — and up cropped Owen Pallett’s name yet again (see my post on Grizzly Bear, and my review of the St Vincent-Grizzly Bear gig) — Owen did the string arrangements and stuff for Grizzly Bear’s “Yellow House”, and is associated with Beirut from a few years ago (see my post on Beirut’s The Gulag Orkestar). […]


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