Monday, 3 August 2015

Art of the Cover - Beirut's "Gulag Orkestar" (2006)

A luscious leggy Latvian lass, perhaps - and her supercharged muscle car .. seemingly made from tin cans - adorn this wonderful collection.

And she's doing something seemingly naughty on the back cover!

Art design was by Rob Carmichael.

Yap, it's the sublime Gulag Orkestar - our first introduction to the fascinating and very unique world of then teen wunderkind, Zach Condon.

Almost a decade on - after releasing three more fine albums in the meantime - Beirut are set to release their fifth album No No No in September.

And about fucking time. It's already been four years since Beirut's last opus - the beautiful intimate collection 'The Rip Tide'.

Largely the work of an ambitious youngster named Zach Condon, Gulag Orkestar is an indie rock album filtered through the mind of a teenager who dropped out of high school to travel across Europe and soak in as much culture and music as possible. The result is something that sounds a bit like the Microphones crossed with Neutral Milk Hotel. It might be the only rock album you hear that doesn't contain any guitars, and it conveys an emotional and worldly power of the likes I've not heard in some time. 
Largely inspired by Balkan folk music, the album moves through mournful ballads and more upbeat tracks (that sound more like the work of a 10-plus member ensemble) with ease, layering horns, stringed instruments, ukeleles, mandolins, glockenspiel, drum, organs, piano, and other percussion under the soulful vocals of Condon himself, who has a similar range and style as Andrew Bird. The disc opens with the album-titled track of "The Gulag Orkestar," and after some warbling horns and cascading piano, the track turns into a shuffling march that finds Condon soaring over the top of it all with his rich croon. 
The album really hits stride with the gorgeous "Bandenburg," which finds deft mandolins playing out over heaving drums and percussion as accordions wheeze and the track builds gracefully with delightful horn sections and layered vocals. "Postcards From Italy" follows, and it may very well be the best track on the disc, moving along with a playful opening section that mixes shuffling mandolin, piano and horns before shifting halfway through to a more delicate (and reflective) section that completely tugs at the heartstrings before bursting into a celebratory ending that's absolutely stunning. 
By somethingexcellent VINE VOICE

 ... Click the link, little Beirut-aholics!


1 The Gulag Orkestar 4:38
2 Prenzlauerberg 3:46
3 Brandenburg 3:38
4 Postcards From Italy 4:17
5 Mount Wroclai (Idle Days) 3:15
6 Rhineland (Heartland) 3:58
7 Scenic World 2:08
8 Bratislava 3:17
9 The Bunker 3:13
10 The Canals Of Our City 2:21
11 After The Curtain 2:54

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