Eclectic indie collective Beirut has combined styles ranging from
the pre-rock vocal era and Eastern European Gypsy music to the
alternately plaintive and whimsical indie folk of the Decemberists
and the lo-fi psychedelic experimentation of Neutral Milk Hotel.
The brainchild of American multi-instrumentalist Zach Condon, the
project released its first recording, the full-length Gulag
Orkestar, in 2006. After refining their sound over the next few
albums while retaining a broad musical base, Beirut's fourth album,
2015's No No No, was their first to reach the Top 50 of the
Billboard 200. Counting the Magnetic Fields and the Smiths among
his influences, New Mexico native Zach Condon began making D.I.Y.
bedroom recordings in his early teens. After dropping out of high
school, he traveled across Europe, in the process becoming exposed
to the Balkan brass music that would be at the heart of his Beirut
debut. Back home in Albuquerque, Condon briefly enrolled at the
University of New Mexico, studying photography and Portuguese
before setting off to Europe again. He eventually crossed paths
with fellow New Mexican Jeremy Barnes, a former member of Neutral
Milk Hotel whose own albums as A Hawk and a Hacksaw shared similar
ethnographic interests with Condon's material. With the help of
Barnes and his A Hawk and a Hacksaw partner, Heather Trost, Condon
recorded the songs that would make up Gulag Orkestar largely on his
own, playing accordion, keyboards, saxophone, clarinet, mandolin,
ukulele, horns, glockenspiel, and percussion alongside Barnes'
drums and Trost's cello and violin. After Barnes gave an early
version of the album to Ba Da Bing! Records label head Ben
Goldberg, the newly christened band Beirut was signed to the label.
Condon moved from Albuquerque to Brooklyn, where he put together a
shifting collective of part-time bandmembers along the lines of
Broken Social Scene for live performances. Following the release of
Gulag Orkestar in May 2006, critical praise spread from small blogs
to mainstream media outlets. The EP Lon Gisland followed in 2007,
leading up to the full-length The Flying Club Cup later that year.
That album marked Beirut's debut in the Billboard 200, reaching
number 118. In 2009, Beirut released the double-EP March of the
Zapotec/Holland. The latter featured six electronic tracks recorded
at home under the pseudonym Realpeople, while the former included
six tracks recorded in Oaxaca, Mexico with the Jimenez Band, a
19-piece group from Teotitlán del Valle. It cracked the Top 100, as
did the full-length Rip Tide, issued in 2011 via Condon's own
Pompeii Records label. Beirut then signed with 4AD, which released
No No No in 2015. Inspired in part by health issues and divorce, No
No No became Beirut's highest-charting album to date, reaching
number 46 on the Billboard 200 and the Top Ten of the alternative
chart. Still showing signs of influence from Balkan brass music,
Condon returned with Beirut's fifth LP, Gallipoli, in 2019.
Co-produced by No No No's Gabe Wax, it was recorded in Puglia,
Italy, New York City, and Condon's adopted base of Berlin, Germany.
~ Stewart Mason & Marcy Donelson