Review Summary: it's been a long time now
The difference between Gulag Orkestar
and The Flying Club Cup
isn’t subtle, but it’s nonetheless provoking: The Eastern European influences are there, pushing through in a celebration of class, but Gulag Orkestar
seems immediate in comparison to The Flying Club Cup
’s nuanced maturation. The former seems the lovechild of a teenager traveling Europe, exploring noises and sounds in wonderment; the latter a controlled, retrospective bout of nostalgia. It’s a tighter ship and a stable hand, but Condon seems surer of himself without having to prove himself with flash or overtly constructed folk. So without this immediacy, The Flying Club Cup
’s fluid stride is that of an old best friend who has done well for himself but really isn’t himself anymore, showing up to his graduating class’ ten-year reunion.
But underneath the polished exterior still lies the wide-eyed explorer, traveling the back roads of Europe, and he shows in spurts, cracking the mold. It’s Condon who makes a hefty feet, distracting us with his hands and then kicks out our feet: ‘Nantes’ is the subdued emotion that seemed so ready to break free before, the gentle tapping percussion in the back keeping a beat waiting to let loose. “It’s been a long time, long time now, since I’ve seen you smile,” he sings, swaying gently to the trumpets and horns. He’s not fooling us but asking for our attention, challenging us where so few seem to do. ‘La Banlieue’ gently weaves from its xylophone lead-in to its sparse use of pianos to draw emotion from the stilted front Condon puts up. It stems from how he describes the album (“pop songs shrouded in big, glorious, over-the-top arrangements and all this drama”) and it shows.
The drama proves the most interesting, those who turn a deaf ear to the lyrical content getting a less pivotal turn of events. ‘Cliquot’ is so abrasively catchy considering those that precede it in its triumphant strings and shaking percussion that Condon’s sudden point-of-view shift goes unnoticed (courtesy of Final Fantasy’s outed Owen Pallett): “What melody will lead my lover from his bed" What melody will see him in my arms again"” It’s challenging and unfocused, a lyrical centerpiece that unhinges a forbidden lust than a pallid insecurity. When in the ukulele melody of ‘The Penalty’ Condon sings, “Our parents rue the day, they find us kneeling. Let them think what they may, for they've good reason,” it is shadowed by the content to ‘Cliquot’ without ever truly being connected. It’s a fine example of the wheels spinning beneath The Flying Club Cup
, where the violin-pop bombast of ‘Forks And Knives (La Fête)’ and Condon’s vocal melody pull off being aesthetically pleasing and charming.
But little comes in the way of surprise past the pop highlight of ‘In The Mausoleum,’ Sufjan Stevens in the way of a Europe of the 1910s. A classically trained piece full of pianos, organs, and strings with Condon’s strong but understated vocal work, it sends The Flying Club Cup
’s latter half into a strong tailspin. The rest lays on Beirut’s tight songwriting and keen sense for too much and too little, ‘Un Denier Verre (Pour La Route)’ a wonderfully minimalist piano to the horn grandeur of ‘Cherbourg.’ And Beirut knows how to finish an album in style, the title-track a mesh of the best pieces to The Flying Club Cup
’s puzzle coming together with group singing that wavers into the drunken drum roll of its final segment. It’s just part of that wide-eyed explorer charm seeping through after a night of heavy drinking with old best friends. It may not always be immediate, but Beirut still manages to weave an enthralling tale. And there’s no doubt this aged club member has more than enough exploration stories under his belt, even if it takes a little digging to find it. It’s more than worth the effort.