Not content with releasing a spellbinding, genre flouting album just under a year ago, Zach Condon celebrates his coming of age with the second album as part of his sextet Beirut. In that time Condon has been admitted to hospital, reportedly suffering from exhaustion. On this evidence the prognosis is he’s fit and well, with a second album that takes Balkan folk music as its root, and takes it off to the West.
The results, as with debut album Gulag Orkestar, are frequently eye-opening. In The Mausoleum could hardly be more stylistically ragged, an Eastern European cha cha cha that seems to take in an intense loss and renewed hope all at the same time, finishing with an intricately plucked string coda.
It provides a snapshot of the refreshing unpredictability that give Beirut their principal appeal. The title track encapsulates this best, a brassy melody taking the lead in a waltz that, while recognisably from Eastern Europe, gets closer to the Mariachi than you could imagine, swinging with abandon.
The accordions whirl, the drums roll and the strings thrum vibrantly. And then there’s the addition of Condon’s voice, now a prominent fixture and taking on an important lead in the wonderful Cliquot, and combining with the rest of the band to produce a unique semi-choral sound. Meanwhile Guyamas Sonora shows the band’s abilities in a heady concoction of pulsing rhythm, driving forward incessantly.
The Call To Arms is a single note, crescendo and decrescendo, before Nantes introduces Condon’s vocal, poignantly singing that “it’s a long time since I’ve seen you smile”. At this point he sounds like a widescreen King Creosote until the rhythm kicks in, a thrilling drive forward at drum and bass tempo but with acoustic, brushed instruments and parping trombones.
It’s an obvious thing to say, but to appreciate the sound and individuality of Beirut you have to hear them, and in this case turn them up loud. For anyone seeking a new sound, in this case a vibrant take on Balkan folk through the eyes of a Westerner, there will be no disappointment.