The year 2007 was a busy one for Zach Condon and the revolving artists working under the Beirut name. Beirut put out a full-length album on Ba Da Bing Records in October 2007 called “The Flying Club Cup” that was designed as a tribute to French culture. My introduction to Beirut has been through three EPs distributed through Ba Da Bing records in 2007 including “Urge Nights,” “Elephant Gun” and “Pompeii.” I always find that a few EPs can give a good introduction to a new artist.
“Urge Nights” was the last of the EPS released by Beirut in 2007 but it acts as the best primer for the rest of Condon’s work. Condon and his backing band do not seem to stray too far from Old World and gypsy influences that are well-documented (i.e. it is the one common thread between every review of Beirut’s work). A sleepy introduction followed by sweeping strings and Condon’s ukulele make “Monna Pomona” an example of the band’s work. Touches of accordions, ukulele and gentle lyrics in “Mount Wroclav” present a sampler of Condon’s virtuosity to the uninitiated. The problem in judging “Urge Nights” comes when fans hear previous EPs like “Elephant Gun” and “Pompeii” which seem to be richer and more complex.
Instrumental work seems to take a back seat in “Elephant Gun” which was released in June 2007. The title song is the best by far on the EP with instrumental work that mixes the light-heartedness of an old-style marching band and the whimsy of a carnival. Condon and friends get a bit over-indulgent with the horn section throughout the song but I realized that it was necessary to match escalating vocals. “Transatlantique” is a mixed blessing which is uncharacteristically driven by Condon’s vocals. This song has an extended instrumental in the middle which seems to run on a bit longer than necessary. The final entry on “Elephant Gun” is “Le Moribund,” a raucous, French-language song that is by far the most upbeat in the short Beirut catalog.
My first experience with Beirut was “Pompeii” which I picked up after its release in February 2007. The initial song, “Fountains and Tramways,” is unlike the rest of the Beirut catalog of music with its experimentation in electronic sounds and quick cuts. I disliked the horn interlude at around 3:00 into the song which seemed to cut down the song’s momentum. The other song on the EP was a slow builder called “Napoleon on the Bellerophon” which features impressive vocal layering. Condon’s voice shares a slow ascent with piano and percussion toward a fantastic climax at the end of the song. While “Pompeii” is not the best offering by Beirut, it was good enough for me to investigate the band further.
In the three Beirut EPs I mentioned above, there are elements of excess and over-indulgence that are natural for a young musician. Zach Condon has spent his nascent career playing around with disparate parts on his EPs and albums. I think that Beirut has the potential to become an unwieldy mess or a great band capable of pulling in far-flung tendencies depending on Condon’s maturation as a musician. I like a bit of mess in my music but a critical skill is sifting through the mess for jewels. As Condon and the rest of Beirut leave the mess in the studio and on stage, they will be able to tighten up their recordings.