Beirut’s ‘Gallipoli’ offers little new to love
Matthew Kellenberg | Thursday, February 7, 2019
Zach Condon was 20 when his band Beirut released their debut album “Gulag Orkestar.” Condon wrote and recorded the album in his childhood bedroom in New Mexico, but the record itself explores destinations and cultures thousands of miles away: scenic Italy, the Rhineland and Balkan brass all figure into the album’s sound. Condon’s flair for world music caught listeners’ attention, and a devoted following popped up. 12 years later, Beirut has returned with “Gallipoli,” their sixth record. In many respects, “Gallipoli” resembles Beirut’s past work. Wanderlust is still at the heart of Zach Condon’s songwriting, and his twee mannerisms permeate the new record. Yet, where “Gulag Orkestar” represented a precocious teen’s devil-may-care leap into the music world, “Gallipoli” is the work of a band with fans to appease and a backward-looking songwriting approach. And while “Gallipoli” does, with some success, rekindle Beirut’s former flame, the record ultimately offers little new to love.
Granted, as far as backward-looking songwriting goes, there are worse discographies to pull from than Beirut’s. On the record’s title track, for example, the band’s classic medley of horns and percussion evokes the emotional swirl that brought listeners to Beirut in the first place — Condon himself described the song best as “a cathartic mix of old and new records.” Additionally, on the single “Landslide,” Condon’s minimalist lyricism — “There’s a landslide back home / Now a catacomb” — slices deep as ever. Though the record’s new ideas leave something to be desired, these two singles prove that Beirut has not lost its touch.
Beirut’s greatest shift on “Gallipoli” is towards a more reverberant, synthetic production style. The church acoustics on this record give depth to the band’s organ instrumentation, which makes a pronounced return on “Gallipoli.” However, the new acoustics also dampen the band’s pointed percussion. As a result, tracks such as the album opener, “When I Die,” never quite hit their stride. On “Fin,” the closing track, the band ramps up its synthetic experimentation. The wordless track strings together keyboards and retro-arcade synths into a pleasant album-ender. Yet, the ‘80s electronica style complements neither the band’s turn-of-the-century twee aesthetic, nor its historical penchant. Beirut’s synthetic production, much like its church acoustics, might have worked on a wholeheartedly experimental album. But “Gallipoli” only commits halfway, and the album suffers for it.
“Gallipoli” is not the worst album Beirut could have put out. For the most part, it is actually a rather pleasant experience. Yet, while “Gallipoli” echoes the themes and styles of the band’s dazzling past works, the air of excitement around this new record is appreciably diminished. It is not Beirut’s sound, but their imaginative spirit that makes the band great. And while “Gallipoli” might be a testimony to Condon’s past creativity, the record itself is one of his least inspired.
Favorite Tracks: “Gallipoli,” “Varieties of Exile,” “Landslide”
If you like: Fleet Foxes, Andrew Bird, The Tallest Man On Earth
Shamrocks: 3 out of 5