Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Beirut

  • Gulag Orkestar [Ba Da Bing!, 2006] B+
  • Lon Gisland [Ba Da Bing! EP, 2006]
  • The Flying Club Cup [Ba Da Bing!, 2007] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Gulag Orkestar [Ba Da Bing!, 2006]
Play Boban Markovic or Kocani Orkestar and you hear contained chaos and wild drums. Play Beirut, most of it multitracked by young Zach Condon working alone, and you hear irrepressible melodicism tempered by harmonic melancholy. Rather than a watering down, this mildness is a détournement, the personal stamp of a romantic caught twixt Keats and Ossian--half prodigy, half bullshit artist. He might even bring off the Buckley-Wainwright-Yorke vocalisms if he minded his words instead of melismating croons and moans. But only twice does Condon's mumble venture into the light: "What can you do when curtain falls/What will you do when curtain falls/You're left right, left right, left right, left right, left right, left right, left right, left right" (the Balkans, fucked coming and going) and "The times we had/Oh, when the wind would blow and rain would snow/Were not all bad/We put our feet just where they had to go" (the sorrows of young Zachary). B+

Lon Gisland [Ba Da Bing! EP, 2006]
Zach Condon is that truly rare thing, an American--in fact, a very young American--who turns a foreign style to his own inauthentic uses without doing it dirt. Gypsy brass as he hears it is gorgeously lyrical because lyricism is his thing, and so he softens the three horns on this EP not just with idiomatic accordion but with ukulele and glockepnspiel. The trumpets are also cushy, establishing a comfort level his melodies earn. The worrisome part is that his lyrics are kind of soft too. [Rolling Stone 3.5]

The Flying Club Cup [Ba Da Bing!, 2007]
In retrospect, it's obvious. Attracted though Santa Fe prodigy Zach Condon may have been to the hyper-emotional voices of the Balkan Roma, he's not intense enough to share a style with Macedonian diva Esma Redzepova or Serbian outlaw Saban Bajramovic, whom he knows even if his alt-rock admirers don't. So here he moves his Beirut project west, to the tamer turf of Parisian chanson. The brass is muted or gone, with accordion, strings, and various keyboards up front--only not as far front as Condon, who leaves little doubt that the singer he most admires in the world is fellow Europhile Rufus Wainwright. Committed to romantic lyricism above all, Condon isn't quite the tunesmith to fully justify this passion, compensating with melismatic slurs and a Gallic disdain for consonants. These tics don't do much for lyrics he's clearly been working on. "Nantes" is suffused with regret. "Forks and Knives" wanders hither and yon. "Cliquot" summons healing melody. Like that. [Rolling Stone 2.5] Dud

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