It was the other internet sensation of 2006 (move over Midlake). Beirut, aka 21-year-old Zach Condon, found themselves roundly hyped from all corners of the online music press. The debut record, The Gulag Orkestar, was a wondrous marvel of music. Steeped in the sounds of East Europe and the Balkans, it warmed the dark depths of my heart as well as my mind. I’d never heard an album so lush, mesmeric and completely out of tune with what else was being hyped. Twelve months on and Condon has written the follow up, the intriguingly titled The Flying Club Cup. The reassuring news is that this doesn’t feel like a record that’s been released to strike whilst the iron is hot, it’s a development of the sound they’ve crafted and made their own.
There is a shift in the soundscapes that they’ve created this time around though and it’s apparent from the very beginning. “Call To Arms” opens with it’s rich tapestry of instruments, Condon’s achingly beautiful voice delivering his tale of emotional longing. Horns, accordions and guitars all chime in unison but the cultural feel of the music has shifted more Westerly. There’s a more Parisian feel to it, the accordions and tempos wouldn’t sound out of place on a French street. This view is compounded by the use of a sample from a French film in it’s conclusion. It’s also become a touch more theatrical. “The Penalty” is unlike anything on the debut record. Condon’s voice sounds as if it’s from a musical, slightly higher in register than his usual low baritone. It reminds me of the UK act Bellowhead, the strings perfectly matching the pedestrian accordian and proof that Condon can mix it up a little. There’s still the pure instrumental interludes as well. Gentle guitars, mandolin and strings all take turns to steel the limelight from the, possibly overused, accordion. “Forks and Knives (La Fete)” is just plain beauitful. Initially stripped back to a pure mandolin accompaniment for Condon’s voice, it breaks free of its simple shackles with it’s drums and accordion and the song progresses.
However, the record does lack the youthful and lo-fi arrangements of its predecessor. Everything is a little more polished and more focused. “In The Mausoleum” is a bit of a throw away track and seems a touch too clichéd with its arching strings, whilst the line “outside is as warm as a bed with a maid in” is just a touch creepy. There are no standout tracks as strong as “Postcards From Italy” or “Brandenburg”. Sure “Un Dernier Verre (Pour La Route)” is a nice spin on Café Jazz and Condon is obviously trying to stretch his songwriting muscles, but he might have just lost sight of what was so great about the debut – its unbridled joy of spinning the old with the new.
Even with these minor problems though, this is still a record with sounds and music that marvels. It sounds fresh, joyous and beautiful. Condon is still one of the most talented songwriters to immerge in the last couple of years and The Flying Club Cup certainly shows he’s not resting on his laurels. The question is now, what’s next for him to discover and absorb?