Beirut Blares Gypsy Brass in 'Flying Club Cup'

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Zach Condon is a young singer-songwriter who grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., but whose musical interests have looked abroad. His debut, which drew on Balkan gypsy music, was a surprise hit among Internet indie-rock cognescenti last year. His second set with the band Beirut is The Flying Club Cup.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Zach Condon is the young singer-songwriter who grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But his musical interests go far beyond the American Southwest. His band is called Beirut. Its debut, which drew on Balkan gypsy music, was a surprise hit. And it's just released its latest effort titled "The Flying Club Cup."

Will Hermes has a review.

(Soundbite of song "Elephant Gun")

Mr. ZACH CONDON (Vocalist, Beirut): (Singing) If I was young, I'd flee this town, I'd bury my dreams underground. As did I, we drink to die, we drink tonight. Far from home, elephant gun, let's take them down one by oneā€¦

WILL HERMES: The first time I heard the group Beirut, I was charmed but a little confuse. Named for a city in Lebanon, that group turned out to mainly be a precocious 19-year-old drop out named Zach Condon who made home recordings. His voice sounded a bit like the British singer Marcy, and he surrounded himself with old-world instruments like accordion, ukulele, and lots of brass.

(Soundbite of song "Elephant Gun")

HERMES: As it turns out, Condon's homemade recordings found a sympathetic ear, and with a bit of dressing up, were released to critical halleluiahs. And so he abandoned his bedroom, quickly assembled musicians for a touring band and then recorded an album with them called "The Flying Club Cup." Here's a song from it.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CONDON: (Singing) Uptown the streets in a calming way, and outside is warm as a bed with a maid. And I find the tall waves and raise, that makes the days go on his way.

HERMES: The first Beirut record grew on the brassy traditions of Balkan music, a sound that's been getting a surprising amount of mileage in the Indie rock world lately, what with acts like DeVotchka, Gogol Bordello and Balkan Beat Box.

That gypsy sound is still present on "The Flying Club Cup," but there's also a strong flavor of French music, which Condon soaped up during a trip to Paris and many hours spend admiring old Charles Aznavour and Jacques Brel records.

(Soundbite of song "Cherbourg")

Mr. CONDON: (Singing) And afar from you is a long way down, I found a better way in your arms. And afar from you is a long way down, I know a better way (unintelligible).

HERMES: Zach Condon may never have formally studied Balkan music or have a drop of French blood in his body, but he knows what sounds good instinctively, and makes music like a good fusion chef just as Paul Simon and Talking Heads and the Clash did back when they were blending international styles.

Will Condon take heat from fuddy-duddies for a cultural appropriation and corrupting traditions? Probably some. But I think Beirut's brand of fusion is a positive thing. And if it inspires American Indie rock fans to check out traditional Balkan music or Jacques Brel recordings, all the better.

Bon appetit.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: "The Flying Club Cup" is the new CD by the group Beirut. Our critic is Will Hermes.

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