CD: Beirut, Gulag Orkestar


Twenty-year-old Zach Condon's war-torn alias is just the start of his obsession with conflict. The title of his debut album evokes Stalin's notorious labour camps and he's found inspiration in the battle-scarred spirit of the Balkans. Yet his music is a sublime mix of optimism and resignation. Mandolin, ukelele, horns and simmering percussion conjure up mournful celebrations; violins strike the tangled melee like shards of lightning.

Condon's tremulous vocals add an even-handed tension: light and hazy while a dense rhythm rumbles below him in Prenzlauerberg; heavy as lead as he swallows back his tears during Scenic World, oblivious to the kitsch Casio-keyboard melody. Bleeps and shifting rhythms punctuate the sepia sound of old eastern Europe, but it's the ageless warmth and humanity that makes the clashing elements work.


Betty Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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