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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
The Flying Club Cup
Ba Da Bing

Rating: 8/10 ?

October 8, 2007
While most 19 to 21-year olds are concerned with sophomore year of university, depending on their "x"-year collegiate plan, young Zach Condon has had sophomore concerns of another nature. As most anyone who was paying attention to last year's plethora of Top 10 lists already knows, Condon is the wunderkind behind Beirut. Having released one of the most surprising and unassuming triumphs of 2006, Gulag Orkestar, Condon is now in the enviable (or not) position of following it up. Wasting no time, he has dropped The Flying Club Cup just as music's critical corps turn their attentions to composing best-of lists for 2007.

Whether Flying Club lands on as many end of the year inventories as Gulag Orkestar depends upon what tastemakers desire from their pet artists these days. Sometimes, change is the name of the game, like the wildly transforming Liars, who seem to gleefully enjoy messing with critics, not to mention their own heads. And sometimes sticking with what worked so well the first time is the secret sauce, as with The Strokes, who stayed the course well into their underrated junior year record.

As for Beirut, Condon has clearly stayed true to his own North Orkestar; Flying Club could easily be side two to Gulag's side one. We find the same instruments, arrangements, crackly Old World melodies, and that gloriously nasal voice. Condon possesses an arresting set of vocal chords, singing with the fluid literacy of The Decemberists' Colin Meloy, while adding the resolve of Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum. His poignant, lyrical moaning is perfectly suited to his subject matter, lending an air of eternal optimism, as compelling as youth itself.

Speaking of the revered Mangum, Condon garnered his fair share of Neutral Milk Hotel comparisons in the wake of Beirut's debut. Some of these were warranted: the lo-fi warmth, the sense of history, the unique instruments of yore, and the pervasive melancholy. Many of these can be said of Flying Club as well, yet as with Gulag, there is one primary difference. Neutral Milk Hotel played and sang with a sense of impending urgency, as if Mangum had only a limited time left to spew his melodious message (apparently, this may be forlornly true, as he has dropped out of sight ever since). If one peels back the layers, it's evident that Mangum's musical tactics have a punk rock beating heart. Beirut, on the other hand, sing and play as if they are planted in front of a Parisian café, with all the time in the world. Just throw some Francs in the dusty violin case at Condon's feet and he'll keep the band going till the espresso and wine run dry.

Though The Flying Club Cup doesn't change course from Beirut's debut, it still succeeds simply because the original formula is so damn good. Condon is such a sonically unique mark on the landscape that Gulag Orkestar effectively gave him carte blanche to run with his imaginative time-travel recipe. Of the relatively recent crop of organic fruit on the post-Internet tree of genre ambiguity, only The Decemberists really sound close, but they're a band of the head, whereas Beirut is of the heart. What Beirut has accomplished with full-length number two is what he hinted at on his comically titled EP Lon Gisland: Zach Condon is an excellent bandleader.

Gulag Orkestar was performed and recorded solo by Condon, in true geek fashion, in his parents' New Mexico home. Lon Gisland was recorded with his sizeable touring band, and it worked on every level. Now Flying Club ups the ante - fellow geek and friend Owen Pallet (aka Final Fantasy), who has arranged strings for a who's who of indie celebs, lent his skills and the keys Arcade Fire's Masonic church-cum-studio to the project. The resulting expansiveness is palpable throughout the album, its intimacy benefiting from the confidence that comes with such a great leap forward. The populous of instruments, performed by the core orkestar of eight, are distinct (thanks in part to engineer Griffin Rodriguez, who has done excellent work with A Hawk and a Hacksaw, and Man Man), and Condon sings with more self-assurance than ever.

As with his balanced and flowing debut, it is pointless to call out specific songs as Flying Club Cup highlights. One either engages with the gears of this get-up, or not. If you do, the delights abound from start to finish, and it really makes no difference whether each song intends to evoke a different French city, as they do on The Flying Club Cup. Nor does it matter that the album was inspired by a 1910 photo of hot air balloons taking flight near the Eiffel Tower. What matters is that this is among the most affecting music being made against any backdrop. Forget about ostentatious emo, Beirut is simply emotive; Old World, New World, it's all Young Condon's world. Get that music passport stamped.

Reviewed by Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other reviews by Ari Shapiro



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