Review Summary: With Gallipoli, Beirut finally bring their sound into the present-day with one of their best records to date.
In my mind, though it may seem irrational to me now, there were only two directions Beirut could go after 2015’s No No No. The first would see band leader Zach Condon double-down on No No No’s sound, one that seemed to give off an uncomfortable emptiness. With the circumstances surrounding that album’s release (a storm peppered with exhaustion and a divorce), it’s clear that the feelings Condon wanted to express did not translate as well as he may have hoped. The other would have the band return to the sound that brought him to the forefront of indie music in the mid-2000s. A return that, while welcomed by many long-time fans, might have seemed disingenuous to others. After all, a lot of the original charm of Beirut was in transporting the listener to a place free from the stresses of the current, a place of warm familiarity.
Four years later and we have our answer: neither. By re-centering themselves, Condon and Co. managed to find the perfect marriage of the adventurous and relaxed, a beautiful new beast to call their own. Songs like the instrumental track “On Mainau Island” show this off well, with Condon’s original Farfisa organ and the band’s Moog synthesizer playing in a sort of strange harmony together. This harmony is also seen on the track “Family Curse,” before eventually tearing down its own walls in favor of a masterfully-done introduction of brass and percussion.
Zach Condon and his small group of talented players deserve the bulk of the credit for making this release work as well as it does. Going by recollections written by Condon prior to the album’s release, it seemed that they were just as eager to push the envelope as he was:
“we proceeded to channel every note played through a series of broken amplifiers, PA systems, space echoes and tape machines, sometimes leaving a modular synth looping in the live room… I wanted every creak and groan of the instruments, every detuned note, every amp buzz and technical malfunction to be left in the cracks of the songs.”
The album’s title track “Gallipoli” reflects this manner of thinking and is made all the better because of it. Condon’s trademark tenor crooning over some of the band’s best work to date. Another highlight is found in the infectious “Gauze Für Zah,” with its layered vocals and penetrating organ/drum hits, followed by an extended ambient section to close it out. In my mind, this would have easily been chosen as the album’s closer. However, using it as the opening to Side B of the album works just as fittingly in my eyes.
But speaking of closing tracks, the final two tracks on Gallipoli, “We Never Lived Here” and the aptly-titled “Fin,” are without a doubt the album’s weakest links. While the former is nothing that the album hasn’t delved into already in it’s previous ten tracks, it lacks the flair those tracks had and seems more interested in pulling the listener out of that mood the band had been building up until that point. “Fin” dips even further away, opting for a modular synth sound that completely feels out of place. It’s a shame that tracks like “Light in the Atoll” or the aforementioned “Gauze Für Zah,” both of which had a perfect sense of finality built-in to them, were not used to their fullest potential.
All of that said, I cannot deny all of the things the album does right. From its characteristically somber lyrics to the sweet sounds of Condon’s vox to the stellar brass, keys, and drums. But what Gallipoli does better than any other Beirut album is make you comfortable with living in the present moment. A sense of exploration and lust for life that the band (and especially Condon) has been lacking for such a long time. While it isn’t exactly a continuation of one singular album in Beirut’s discography, Gallipoli is the necessary next step they needed: a merging of ideas old and new. And when asked to walk, they marched ahead instead.