BEIRUT: MARCH OF THE ZAPOTEC / REALPEOPLE HOLLAND (2009)
CD I: 1) El Zócalo; 2) La Llorona; 3) My Wife; 4) The Akara; 5) On A Bayonet; 6) The Shrew; CD II: 1) My Night With The Prostitute From Marseilles; 2) My Wife, Lost In The Wild; 3) Venice; 4) The Concubine; 5) No Dice.
Condon's next predictably unpredictable move consisted of releasing a double EP whose first half sounds nothing like its second. For the first fifteen minutes, he is being accompanied by the 19-piece Jimenez Band form the suburbs of Oaxaca, fusing Mexican talent with Balkan influences. For the second fifteen minutes, he changes his moniker to that of Realpeople, a pseudonym he had already used before the Beirut days, and experiments with electronic textures, testing how the same Balkan influences can be modeled in digital ways. ART!!
What is really reassuring is that Condon's feel for melody and taste for invention seem to have only increased and sharpened since his last album. Despite still being severely tied to waltz tempos, he makes great use of his Mexican troopers, and, for once, the melting pot approach really triggers an interesting cultural realization — namely, that Eastern European folk melancholy and Spanish desert-style romanticism have quite a bit of a common flavour. If 'La Llorona' (loosely dedicated to a traditional Mexican legend) is almost entirely Mexican in spirit, 'The Akara' already tries to merge the traditions, and by the time 'The Shrew' comes along, I no longer know how to describe the whole thing.
It's a funny experience, to see Spaniards and Serbs shaking hands in such an oddly mediated manner. (Of course, once you get to the bottom of it, it's all about Gypsy power on both ends — which does not, however, make Condon's astute synthesis any less exciting). And, on top of that, both 'Llorona' and 'Akara' feature some of Zack's luverliest vocal melodies so far.
Feelings are generally mixed when it comes to the second part. On one hand, Holland is clearly the most innovative work that Condon produced since the basic sound of «Beirut» was established in the first place. On the other hand, it is hard to get rid of the thought that the lad may just be acting cool here, falling for the ridiculously all-permeating idea that any modern music that aspires to be «modern» has to make use of electronic equipment. The melodies on Holland are of the usual solid quality, and at least one song, 'The Concubine', with its enchanted fairy-tale sound, might rank among Condon's finest. But couldn't it have sounded even better if the accordeons and chimes were augmented with real strings? I don't know. Actually, I do know: some of these tracks are occasionally performed by Zack's currently playing band without electronic background, and each instance of witnessing that has always seemed far more invigorating to me.
Certainly the last track on the EP, a crude dance-pop instrumental called 'No Dice', feels tremendously out of place here. As catchy as its main hook may be, it is still in the «dorky» ballpark, better fit for an arcade shooter soundtrack than for a legit Beirut album. I can only assume that it was a silly joke to test fan patience rather than, you know, «All of my life I've been dreaming...» etc. etc., the equivalent of suddenly being able to fulfill your dirtiest sexual fantasy. But, if anything, it just further confirms my belief that, in the future, Condon would do much better to stay away from synthesizers altogether. Now that we know that you can do it, Zack, how about getting back in touch with those Jimenez people?
Thumbs up, though, because, without 'No Dice', there is still thirty minutes of good music swimming around, and the whole thing is an excellent and original variation on the old style. Three more cheers for the synthetic approach.
Check "March of The Zapotec" (CD) on Amazon
Check "March of The Zapotec" (MP3) on Amazon