Like a lot of bands these days, Beirut didn’t get its start in a garage, but rather in a bedroom. That’s where a young Zach Condon started recording songs on his own. But Condon had acquired musical influences beyond what the average teen is usually exposed to; legend has it that, while traveling throughout Europe after quitting high school, Condon became enchanted with Balkan Folk and traditional Eastern European sounds, an influence that became a big part of Beirut’s style.
Beirut started officially coming together in Albuquerque, N.M., when Condon enlisted Jeremy Barnes (ex-Neutral Milk Hotel member and leader of his own group, A Hawk and a Hacksaw) and Heather Trost (also of AHAAH) to help him record Beirut’s surprising debut, Gulag Orkestar. Condon handled the bulk of instrumental duties, playing everything from horns and accordion to clarinet and glockenspiel.
Condon signed with Jersey label Ba Da Bing!, then relocated to Brooklyn and assembled a live band.
Gulag came out in 2006 and quickly became a critical smash. Since the debut, Beirut’s fan base continued to increase as Condon released a few unusual but fascinating EPs, including an all electronic one and one recorded with a 19-piece Mexican band (the divergent EPs were packaged together as March of the Zapotec/Holland).
This year’s full-length release, The Rip Tide, was the first time Condon knew that a large base of fans would be eagerly awaiting the music and, though that is reflected in the slightly more accessible, orchestral Indie Rock/Pop feel of the album, Rip Tide is still a dynamic, eclectic effort that showcases Condon’s maturation as a world-class songwriter.
The Rip Tide will undoubtedly top a lot of year-end lists. And deservedly so — the album shows Condon coming into his own voice more fully, resulting in more subtle integration of his wide-ranging influences. Instead of a tourist trying to make his surroundings more like home, on The Rip Tide, Condon is like a world-traveler trying to tastefully decorate his own home with souvenirs from his travels.
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