In winter of 2016, Beirut’s headh honcho Zach Condon started writing music on his Farfisa organ. This was the same instrument on which the band’s acclaimed debut ‘Gulag Orkestar’ was written over a decade earlier. The group’s debut dazzled with its juxtaposition of Balkan folk with capricious indie; crunchy syncopated rhythms were combined with lilting festival-ready choruses, and the result was a hugely impressive, if unusual, first album.
Since then, the Sante Fe collective has released a series of records that – although rooted in the sound created on ‘Gulag Orkestar’ – have welcomed a host of new influences. ‘The Flying Club Cup’ saw Beirut go baroque pop, ‘The Rip Tide’ embraced mariachi with its bombastic brass arrangements and 2015 record ‘No No No’ was a 30-minute sugar rush of euphoric indie-pop. Each release was threaded through with Condon’s musical adventurousness.
Album five, ‘Gallipoli’, is no different. Beirut’s now-trademark sound has been sun-drenched this time around, chockablock with slinky brass and luminous hooks. Title track ‘Gallipoli’ (which was influenced by Condon seeing a brass band procession in the Medieval Italian town of the same name) is a jubilant, waltzing chunk of folk-pop, filled with skipping drums and Condon’s velvety vocals floating over the top. ‘Gauze für Zah’ and ‘Landslide’, meanwhile, are soaring nuggets of the sweet folk-laced pop, similar to those we heard on the band’s previous album ‘No No No’. ‘Gallipoli’ is the culmination of every Beirut album, feeling like a climatic mix of new and old. In some ways this album feels like a return home, with those familiar trotting organ lines and close-knit vocal harmonies; but others it’s the inevitable next step on Condon’s musical voyage.
He doesn’t always get it quite right: the whirring electronics of ‘On Mainau Island’ feel somewhat out of place, a chomping collection of whizzing synths hastily stuck between two lovely folk-pop tunes, and ending number, the appropriately titled ‘Fin’, again doesn’t follow the thread of the album, and seems like it was hurriedly popped on the end.
However, in general, effortlessly intelligent songwriting prevails. From the stomping mariachi of ‘Varieties of Exile’ to gorgeous Balkan brass lines in ‘When I Die’, ‘Gallipoli’ is almost always an intriguing listen. Soaking the sound they’ve spent over a decade cultivating in dazzling Italian sun, Beirut’s latest is a welcome summer holiday.