Live preview: Beirut
Zach Condon assimilates a world's worth of influences on his latest LP.
Mon Sep 12 2011
Photograph: Kristianna Smith
There's a noble history to "fake music," from the surreal, swinging Muzak of Esquivel to the slinky, cerebral meta-jazz of the Lounge Lizards. The notion trends onward to the new-millennial cultural emulations of acts like Brooklyn's Chicha Libre, whose embrace of disreputable Peruvian party music has won the band a huge following in the land that inspired it.
Zach Condon, the 25-year-old wunderkind behind Beirut, is making it ever more difficult to pinpoint his place in this continuum. On his third full-length album, The Rip Tide, the singer-composer still displays a knack for brass fanfares at once melancholy and uplifting, antique waltzy rhythms and silken reveries that feel magically out-of-time. But Condon's no longer traceable on the ethnographic GPS that has variously placed him in thrall to polyphonic Balkan brass bands, the dramatic balladry of Jacques Brel and the sun-dazed sway of mariachi.
All those sources have been assimilated—along with harmonium, ukulele and who knows what else—into a bright new collection that flirts with pop on its own terms. "Now as the air grows cold/The trees unfold/And I am lost and not found," he sings on "Vagabond," a tune whose head-bopping beat could pass for a late-'50s sock-hop hit, or perhaps Fine Young Cannibals. Whether a creative strategy or a state of being, the style suits the music, which veers sideways with what sounds like a harpsichord interlude. That mix of inventiveness and idiosyncratic lyricism gives Beirut a surplus of charm and a pocket (trumpet) full of surprise.