The Flying Club Cup is a bit too much like reading your pretentious younger...
Michael Quinn 2007
Zach Condon, aka Beirut, made quite a splash with his Eastern European-influenced debut long-player Gulag Orkestar back in May 2006. For his much-anticipated follow-up, Condon has changed tack and headed westwards and back in time to the Paris of a century ago to turn in another artfully crafted example of musical fetishism.
And yet, and yet… Rather disconcertingly after a short fanfare from what sounds suspiciously like an ancient shofar, Condon launches into his wistfully quavering opening track, “Nantes”, which sounds for all the world like The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon covering Black’s “Wonderful Life”. It’s not long before Condon is layering his lovelorn laments with twitching percussion, doleful brass and weeping accordion, but the damage has already been done and the bubble burst.
Hannon’s shadow falls across several tracks and there’s the occasional hint of Rufus Wainwright, too, or perhaps that’s wishful thinking as Condon’s unrelentingly fey breast-beating and affected keening begins to sap the spirit.
What is likable about the project is the sheer sepia-tinged conviction with which it is executed. Condon has obviously immersed himself in the world of the Parisian café, the French chanson and its most recent musical champion Jacques Brel, all of which feeds and fuels these eleven hymnals to lost love.
Throughout, individual tracks are peppered with enough authentically French allusions and references (alongside a hint of New Mexico exotica every now and again) to suggest a lot of Pernod and strong black coffee might have been consumed during its recording.
Don’t travel here from Gulag Orkestar expecting more of the same. Textures are noticeably thinner (even with Owen Pallett’s lush, occasionally louche string arrangements) and there’s nothing to compare with the earlier album’s epic ambition or bewitching intensity.
Even so, still only 20, Condon is clearly an artist of considerable potential and has turned out an album that works immaculately within its own self-referential milieu. But as a listening experience, The Flying Club Cup is a bit too much like reading your pretentious younger brother’s rather uninspiring, incident-free diary.