Credit Zach Condon for not acting his age. While many 21-year-olds are working on finishing up their undergraduate years, Condon is making albums. And not just any messily-recorded-in-the-garage (or GarageBand) albums, but fully developed and composed and realized albums. His first full-length, under the name Beirut, Gulag Orkestar, with its Eastern European-inspired horns and strings, a kind of Neutral Milk Hotel-meets-gypsy field recordings, was adored in the indie rock world, and its successor, The Flying Club Cup, is an even more mature accomplishment. Though not as immediately catchy as his debut, The Flying Club Cup contains a sense of intrigue that pulls the listener in beguilingly, twisting and swaying and marching its way through the romanticized ideas of the Balkan town, the rustic Southern French village, the small Italian trattoria. It's elaborate New World indie pop that tries to touch the Old as best it can. Flügelhorns and accordions and mandolins line the 13 songs here like old bricks, Condon's voice rising elegiacally over in layered swells, tired and wise, inspired by, but not limited to, the rich French musical past, from Tino Rossi to Jacques Brel. Because Beirut plays music that feels like it's been reflected off a long and storied life, there's the possibility for unearned pretension to appear, but there's a real sincerity, and a sense of life, that finds its way into the songs here. Condon and his collaborators (which include Final Fantasy's Owen Pallett, who even sings on the lovely "Cliquot") have not forgotten the kind of jocularity and community inherent in the folk traditions they pull from, so even as violins, organs, and harpsichords play dramatic and acute melodies and the vocals ascend to a feverish intensity, that feeling of being in the back of some tavern, passing around dishes and glasses and singing aloud with your compatriots, is present, and keeps things grounded, more real. "In the Mausoleum" balances syncopated piano with minor melodies and an ominous upright bass, while both "Guyamas Sonora" and the title track use dramatic horns to convey a kind of triumph in the prosperity of the tradition. It's thoughtful and fun and sophisticated, utterly alluring, another fantastic success by Zach Condon.
The Flying Club Cup Review
by Marisa Brown