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Music Review: Beirut – The Flying Club Cup

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There’s something unique about a band that can mix the ancient with the modern, taking an old folk style and turning it into something fresh. When listening to Beirut’s The Flying Club Cup, it’s easy to fall into the traveling circus quality of the music, or imagine you are walking along the Seine in Paris eating a crêpe and discussing modern art. It’s one of those rare moments when an album lulls you into your own personal fantasy and the music takes over.

Mixing European folk music with his own Western sensibilities, Beirut’s Zach Condon has created a sound unique to the indie rock world, and The Flying Club Cup certainly doesn’t disappoint. However, Condon’s sonic palate and grand musical gestures are hard to take by the end of the album and the music starts to fold under the weight of grandeur. It’s not that The Flying Club Cup delivers lackluster music, it’s that forty minutes of accordions, strings and horns can start to sound like it’s been done before. And although the album is strong lyrically, Condon’s vocals drone and start to sound overly pretentious.

After the brash sounds of bagpipes take us into the album, Condon jumps right in with “Nantes,” a four minute pastiche blending organ, accordion and horns that gives us a taste for what Condon is trying to create with Beirut. All of his European influences are here, but Condon is not borrowing from his heritage or ancient family past. In fact, Condon is a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and picked out the folksy elements of Beirut’s sound while traveling abroad in Europe.

Although some might see Beirut’s sound as the bastard child of Condon’s mythic fascination with Europe and his indie rock roots, The Flying Club Cup is not a boring or pretentious effort. Tracks like “A Sunday Smile” and “Cliquot” break the mold musically and lyrically. In “A Sunday Smile,” Condon hints at an exotic, almost dreamlike world as he sings of lost love. In “Forks and Knives (La Fête),” Condon blends the strongest parts of his larger-than-life band with a choir of vocals in a way that just feels right.

The Flying Club Cup is a musically adventurous album, but sometimes the adventure and beauty clash, leaving the music to collapse like a house of cards. By the end of the album, Condon’s vocals start to sound monotonous and boring, and the musical motifs feel used and dull. That’s why it’s unfortunate that the album’s best song, the self-titled “The Flying Club Cup,” is buried right at the end of the album behind a few lackluster tracks. The blending of organ, horns and strings works well and creates a more unique sound, and Condon’s vocals don’t drag us along.

Beirut might be one of those bands that are prone to flights of fancy, but The Flying Club Cup is generally a well-grounded album. Although there are elements of the Condon’s sound that are loud and in your face (mainly, his insistence on heavily relying on horns), The Flying Club Cup presents a subdued sound that, at times, can’t hold up the bravado of Condon’s imported tastes. Instead, it just moves along, and will either lull you to sleep or take you to another world. But either way, The Flying Club Cup takes you on a journey to a place you’ve never been before, yet feels familiar enough.

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About Kevin Eagan