Beirut’s balkan flavored Gulag Orkestrar arrived last year swept up in a maelstrom of blog-hype, a buzz so deafening and feverish that it seemed almost irresponsible. And indeed, the band’s first live performances were met with a withering criticism that failed to take into account the fact that not only was Beirut front-man/master-mind Zach Condon not old enough to drink, he looked barely old enough to shave.

Still, the hype was warranted. Gulag Orkestrar was a stunning and frighteningly mature debut. Inspired by a tour of Eastern Europe, Condon delivered an album redolent with an old world scent of strong coffee and tobacco ash flicked onto cracked cobblestone sidewalks, with the clashing, crashing beauty of balkan brass bands roaring from nearby, songs sung by a teenager blessed with a world-weary weathered baritone. And as was stated in the blogger by-laws, I drank the Kool-Aid and named Beirut the best debut of 2006.

12 months later, it’s a bit surprising to see Beirut’s name absent from the Hype Machine charts despite the fact that he’s slated to drop his sophomore effort , The Flying Club Cup, just two weeks from tomorrow. Especially considering Beirut’s new record is perhaps even more outstanding than his first. According to Condon, the album’s inspiration came from “listening to a lot of Jacques Brel and French chanson music– pop songs shrouded in big, glorious, over-the-top arrangements and all this drama– and that was in some sense unfamiliar territory to me. So I started buying new instruments and relying on things I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with, like French horns and euphoniums, carrying these big, epic big brass parts that I used to do all on trumpets, and working with accordion and organ instead of all ukulele– very much throwing myself in the world of classical pop music.”

Stylus writer Nick Southall dropped an A- on it last week and the grade is certainly warranted, as is his sentiment that “it’s a simple formula—the songs are better, the melodies more memorable, the vocals stronger, the sound richer, the arrangements more rewarding.” It’s the sort of sophomore effort to cement Beirut as being far more than just another flash-in-the-pan. And maybe by the time he’s ready to make album #3, he’ll finally need to start shaving.
From the Flying Club Cup

MP3: Beirut-“A Sunday Smile”

From the Lon Gisland EP
MP3: Beirut-“Carousels”

From Gulag Orkestrar
MP3: Beirut-“Postcards from Italy”

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