Beirut: The Flying Club Cup

Lester Feder
Photo: Luba B. Glade

The lushly textured but repetitious second album from indie darling Beirut shows the hazard of playing with yourself.


The Flying Club Cup

Label: Ba Da Bing
US Release Date: 2007-10-09
UK Release Date: 2007-10-08

You would never want 21-year old Zach Condon as a tour guide. The wünderkind who used multitrack recording to birth the band Beirut in his parents' basement clearly wants his music to be transporting, but his itinerary's a little shaky. His band borrows its name from the capital of Lebanon. Its first album, Gulag Orkestar (2006), was intended to invoke the Balkanks. Beirut's latest, The Flying Cub Cup, is purportedly French. The liner notes are covered with "found" black-and-white vacation photos from an archaic Parisian photo album, and some of the songs take their names from French cities. The album was supposedly inspired by a 1910 photo of hot air balloons in flight near the Eiffel Tower.

Beirut's ethereal and richly textured music could be a wonderful way to take a trip back in European time. Beirut became an indie darling for using horns, accordions, and other subtle anachronisms to push the style's boundaries. The production is tenderly beautiful. But Condon's France sounds pretty much the same as his Balkans. This wouldn't be such a problem if so many of the songs on The Flying Cub Cup didn't sound so much like each other.

On this disc, Beirut is a one trick pony, albeit one with a pretty good trick. All the songs are essentially based on a four- or eight-bar series of chords that restlessly loop back on themselves. Their moods are confined to a narrow compass, too, either a mournfully minor or wistfully major.

These factors work well to produce the romantic ambiance of a small, smoke-filled Balkan bar or Parisian bistro, while suggesting a tumbling street outside the door. The album's first song, "Nantes", begins small, Condon singing accompanied only by keyboards. But after he finishes the first couplet, a barrage of percussion enters -- then a trumpet -- then more brass and a string section -- as if a parade were passing by. Then there's a retreat, perhaps to the apartment of someone watching from above, a solo bass line played beneath a fragment of a French TV soundtrack. Then the parade makes one last swing around the block before fading out.

It's a stunning performance. But maybe my lungs have gotten coddled by a life in smoke-free cities -- track after track of this atmosphere is suffocating, and Condon's arrangements don't help. He has one of the most distinctive voices I've heard of late, velvety and piquant like a 78% cacao chocolate bar. I like to eat such intense desserts with coffee or bourbon, something to complement its richness, and I like Condon's voice solo or backed by the tinny ukelele on "Forks and Knives". But he uses overdubbing to sing harmony with himself on virtually every song. When combined with equally rich horns and accordions, this constant Condon chorus makes me recall a dessert I once had in Venice: a block of hazelnut/chocolate gelato completely submerged in whipped cream. My first bite was delightfully decadent, but I was nauseous after the second. Two tracks of The Flying Cub Cup is all I could handle in one sitting.

While Condon had other musicians collaborating on this album earlier in the process than on Gulag Orkestar, the album falls victim to the sins of computer-assisted recording. Digital editing makes the creation of loops addictively easy, and a cyclical song structure facilitates the addition of more and more instruments. Digital editing also tempts a musician to keep adding things, an irresistible impulse to a mind as creative as Condon's.

Gulag Orkestar was something of an indie sensation, and there's no reason The Flying Club Cup won't get a similarly warm reception -- the music's virtually the same. I hope that this success doesn't let Condon avoid pushing himself on his next release. He may be a one-trick pony now, but he's got the potential to grow into a very compelling circus.




Love in the Time of Coronavirus

I Went on a Jewel Bender in Quarantine. This Is My Report.

It's 2020 and everything sucks right now, so let's all fucking chill and listen to Jewel.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.