Beats Per Minute: Beirut stumbles with grace on “Gallipoli”

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Will Newbegin

“Gallipoli” is the newest studio record from New York indie folksters, Beirut.

Bearing nothing in common with our university’s game of the same name, Beirut is led by singer, songwriter and organist Zach Condon. I was admittedly unfamiliar with his outfit’s previous work before “Gallipoli,” but further listens to their newest and previous records surprised me.

Condon’s songwriting incorporates elements of Eastern European folk music, particularly from an instrumental standpoint. The music is rife with horns, organ and syncopated rhythm. Filtering these elements through a lens of western pop sensibility — particularly in structure and approach to production — Condon evokes a harmonious balance of his own culture and that which inspire him.

His inspiration runs organically too. Condon wrote and recorded portions of the album in Southern Italy, inspired by the scenery around him. That shows in the album’s aesthetic appeal, which is majestic and cosmopolitan at every juncture.

Producer Gabe Wax joins the band for a second consecutive time behind the boards, but I can’t say that I’m enthralled by his efforts. At times — particularly on the album’s front half — he imbues a sense of even spacing between the record’s varied instrumental palette. In the back half, the songs feel crowded and sloppy.

Much of the same can be said about the 12 tracks on “Gallipoli” as well. As the track list counts higher, I grow significantly less interested with a record that, for its surface sheen, I really wanted to like.

Listen to the first song, “When I Die,” and you’ll agree with my initial sentiments. It’s whimsical and playful, but not inoffensive. In triumph, Condon muses on what seems to be his acceptance with death — though I can’t say that I’m fully sure.

His lyrics are both sparse and cryptic.

Ambiguity notwithstanding, it is a sufficient opener that introduces the LP’s musical MO with bravado.

I say MO for a reason. Formula dictates direction throughout much of album. Songs begin with a simple instrumental passage, and layers of the east-west instrumental swirl pile atop, usually building and often toward nowhere.

In iterations where the music builds with direction, the record really finds its stride. The title track provides a fine example. A modulated synth lead gives way to a triplicate horn melody. It is paired with symphonic drums and guitar in a dream-like effort that perfectly encapsulates the European pastoral beauty that inspires the record.

“On Mainau Island” follows a similar beat. The gorgeous instrumental delineates the median of the album’s better half.

That better half closes with “Corfu,” the album’s seventh track. Though slightly gentrified, its Latin-style jazz groove fits in tone with the record. It’s breezy and immediate, and even turns a shade experimental with an ending that disintegrates into a noisy collection of musical parts. If “Gallipoli” ended here, Beirut’s product would not have overstayed its welcome as a fun and somewhat progressive endeavor.

However, for the last five tracks, Beirut churns out formulaic gunk symptomatic of the finite possibilities of this record’s songwriting approach.

The vocal melody mellows itself to near-monotony. The lyrics abstract themselves to obnoxious pretense. The production dirties itself slightly. The songs slide into cruise control, ending with even less gusto than they began with.

The colorful ideas and influences that Beirut pull from simply do not come into fruition on the record’s back half. Initial pleasantries cannot offset a set of songs that refuse to make a name for themselves, even if called upon.

RATING: 2.5/5

TL;DR:

“Get Tragic” by Blood Red Shoes: 3/5

“Assume Form” by James Blake: 3/5

“What Chaos is Imaginary” by Girlpool: 1.5/5

William Newbegin, ’21, is an Associate News Editor and columnist for The Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected]

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