June 7, 2011

Beirut revisited

Today it was announced that indie pop darlings Beirut (the Eastern-European-gypsy styled project of New Mexico native Zach Condon) will have a new LP on store shelves this August. Beirut emerged in the latter half of the 00s, as I was beginning my first degree; so I have a special attachment to Condon's work--one that I'd forgotten about until today. It's always struck me as rather odd that Beirut could emerge from the annals of indie pop and find such favour among kids who've been conditioned by punchy guitars, new wave synths and driving disco beats. Perhaps what makes Beirut's deeply anachronistic sound so refreshing is the fact that it's defiantly not a trendy revival of, say, eighties synth-pop or sixties psych-rock--instead, we hear a style of music that our generation never had a chance to forget.

One of the remarkable things about Beirut is how little things change from album to album; and how wonderfully simple Condon's songwriting remains throughout his discography. This isn't mere nostalgia: every one of Beirut's releases is irreducibly romantic, sure, but such romance is deeply self-aware. Even Condon's most recent pair of EPs, which are decidedly less straightforward than anything he's ever done (one of them flirts with electronica), hold the clues of a past that we never knew.

I suppose what I'm trying to get across is that describing the music of Beirut as nostalgic, anachronistic, or even romantic (as nearly all music critics do), seems to miss something. I prefer to think of Beirut's music as a utopian form of art, not unrelated to the way in which Victorians like William Morris reproduced medieval legends (or alternate histories) in a context of rapid industrialization and the ongoing erosion of social distinctions. Of course, Condon's music doesn't really lend itself to any real kind of social unification; personally, I find it makes me mopey and introspective, and I imagine that it provokes similar emotions in other listeners. But the utopian impulse is there all the same, and I can't help thinking that Beirut's "no place" of the past supplements my generation's collective hunger for a better history.

On his forthcoming album, The Rip Tide, Condon returns again to the whimsical folk music and the Balkan sound that initially inspired him. Take a listen to the album's debut single "East Harlem."

Beirut - East Harlem by Revolver USA

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