Home Music Beirut: March of the Zapotec & Real People: Holland

Beirut: March of the Zapotec & Real People: Holland

by Archives March 10, 2009

A few years ago, just out of high school, Beirut mastermind Zach Condon travelled across Europe, gathering inspiration for his debut Gulag Orkestar and sophomore album The Flying Club Cup. Infused with the brass music of Balkan gypsies and the vintage soul of 1920s France, the albums garnered high praise and catapulted Condon to indie stardom.
Now, fresh from a stint in small-town Mexico Condon is offering up a double EP; split into mariachi-inspired music entitled March of the Zapotec, and a second half of dreamy synth-pop called Real People: Holland.
Recorded with the help of a 19-piece brass ensemble, March of the Zapotec is more of a direct showcase of traditional mariachi songs, rather than a novel reinterpretation of this influence.
Dripping with imagery of Mexican culture, “El Zocalo” and “The Shrew” could undoubtedly be heard in a sunny Mexican village, amidst colourful sombreros and vibrant traditional dresses. The playfully tragic “La Llorona” features Condon’s liquid vocal delivery. It would complement an Alejandro Jodorowsky film brilliantly, especially juxtaposed with the quirky scenes of violent chaos, and bloody shootouts in “El Topo.”
“My Wife,” “The Akara,” and “On a Bayonet” are so bittersweet that it’s hard to tell whether they are funeral march songs or odes to love. The woeful intro of “The Akara,” followed by a choppy brass background, a lamenting horn, and Condon’s wistful tremor present a real challenge to restrain from weeping.
Just under two minutes long, the instrumental “On a Bayonet” is noble and reserved, kindling images of soaring hillsides and vast deserted fields. The folk music played by the locals no doubt crept into this album, as Condon spent time in the Mexican village of Teotitlan del Valle during the album’s recording.
On Holland Condon expresses his affinity for mellow Euro-rooted electro pop, recorded under his pre-Beirut moniker, Real People. The gurgling beginning of “No Dice” builds up to a relatively tame plateau. In fact all four tracks on the Holland half of the double EP are characterized by a hapless sort of pleasantry. Pegged as “bedroom synth-pop,” it sounds exactly like one man’s foray into late night fantasies – with a synthesizer. The EP is mellow, repetitive, and languid – the songs on Holland drag on with their repetition, offering no gratifying crescendo before dwindling off into the night.
“My Wife, Lost in the Wild” perfectly exemplifies Condon’s tendency for blending his voice into the sonic palette (read: incomprehensible lyrics). Along with “My Night with the Prostitute from Marseilles” this track drifts along, barely staying afloat. These songs were not intended for energizing pounding dance floors; instead their gentle murmur serves as a pretty decent lullaby. On “Venice,” Condon combines his Mexican, Eastern European, and Western influences, where dreamy synth-pop, ambient lounge and hints of Balkan brass weave a mellow interplay around Condon’s fuzzy vocals. As intriguing as it sounds on paper, it’s a deep flop in practice, as the song stretches on and on until it casually sinks, inducing no regrets, but plenty of sighs of relief.
Condon’s prowess in several genres is admirable, yet the double EP lacks any stand-out tracks. The sadness oozing from the funeral songs is endearing, yet the catchy quirkiness of “Elephant Gun” or the wistful romanticism of “Nantes” escapes this release. “La Llorona” and “My Wife” are charming enough, and the sense of yearning on “On a Bayonet” is heartbreaking. Mellow as a sunny siesta, March of the Zapotec is a tragically merry collection of songs your grandmother will love. While the Holland EP is dreamy and droning, showcasing a curious mix of lounge, trance, and Euro-pop, it perhaps could use some sprucing up from electro-pop princess Sally Shapiro.

7/10

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